Bicester Heritage is celebrating three years since the start of the project to return the former RAF base to its former glory and turn it into a hub for motoring excellence.
Since the project began, Bicester Heritage has been transformed, with the site now playing host to 35 automotive and aviation-related businesses and holding a series of phenomenally successful motoring related events. It also continues to be an active airfield, has sponsored the UK’s first historic vehicle restoration apprenticeship course, and has an on-site test track, which is available for private testing.
When the team behind the revitalising of Bicester Heritage took over, the site was in serious danger, and a far cry from the hub of military aviation that played host to a royal visit in 1965. Instead, it had lain untouched for almost 40 years, having been mothballed by the RAF in 1976. It was under such threat that it was described as being the ‘most at risk of all defence estates in Britain’ in 2008, and even now 80% of the site is registered as Grade II listed.
The future remained bleak until as recently as 2013, when the current team stepped in and bought the site from the Ministry of Defence, with big plans to turn it into a hub for all things related to classic cars.
Just three years down the line, these plans have developed at a staggering rate, and Bicester Heritage is enjoying a life of the sorts it hasn’t experienced for many years.
There are around 50 buildings on the 48-acre technical site and, as the site celebrates its third anniversary, 70% of these have been reactivated, using original materials and techniques wherever possible.
There are now as many as 35 businesses operating from these buildings, a rapid rise from the 12 that were on site two years ago. All six of the carefully selected start-up businesses that were the first to begin trading from the site are still going strong. The businesses’ combined areas of expertise mean that the site acts as a marina-like environment for classic cars, with specialists able to take care of all areas of buying, restoring, running, storing and enjoying life with a classic car.
Bicester Heritage has also played host to numerous events, including eight Sunday Scrambles, which bring together classic car enthusiasts and their vehicles at the site. The largest of these Sunday Scrambles has seen 3500 people and as many as 2000 cars attending, and more than 25,000 people came to the various events throughout 2015.
Dan Geoghegan, Bicester Heritage Managing Director said:
“When we took on the challenge of bringing the RAF site at Bicester back to life, we knew it was a huge undertaking. There is no denying that it has been tricky at times, but the team have performed wonderful achievements to get us to where we are today.
We are not taking our foot off the accelerator, though, and phase four of our plan will see the reactivation of the remaining buildings on the technical site within the next 12 months.”
The work at Bicester Heritage is by no means finished, and the reactivation of the buildings on the technical site is just the start of the plans for the future.
More About Bicester Heritage
Bicester Heritage is a 348-acre former RAF Bomber Command Station in Oxfordshire that has taken on a new lease of life as a centre of excellence for all things to do with historic motoring.
When the site was purchased from the MOD by the Bicester Heritage team in April 2013 it had been placed on Historic England’s ‘at risk’ register and designated the most at risk of all defence estates in Britain in 2008. Now, after some 100 years of being closed to the public and being mothballed by the RAF in 1976, the base has been returned to its former glory and reopened as the best-preserved WW2 RAF Bomber Station in the UK.
More than 30 specialist businesses operate from the unique site, and between them they cover every potential requirement for storing, running and maintaining a historic car. The skilled craftspeople based at Bicester Heritage range from historic grand prix car preparers and magneto specialists, to dealers and exhaust manufacturers. Together they provide a supportive ecosystem that seeks to revolutionise historic car ownership.
Bicester Heritage events include regular Sunday Scramble open days and each summer, Flywheel Festival.
It is located just off the M40, and a mile away from Bicester railway station, meaning it can be reached from London in less than an hour by road or rail.
For more information about the site and the team behind it, see www.bicesterheritage.co.uk.
Pictures courtesy of Amy Shore
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