International Bomber Command Centre fighting closure

The memorial site which features the names of all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for RAF Bomber Command is fighting closure just two years after it was opened by hundreds of veterans.

The International Bomber Command Centre includes a 31 metre tall spire, the UK’s tallest war memorial, and walls that feature the names of all those 57,861 men and women who lost their lives during the Second World.

The memorial site features the names of all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for RAF Bomber Command Credit: Editorial

Hundreds of World War Two veterans from across the world officially opened the £10m International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC) just outside Lincoln in April 2018.

Among their number was Johnny Johnson, Britain's last surviving Dam Buster, who took off from nearby RAF Scampton during the famous 1943 raid.

But the heritage site was forced to close due to lockdown in March and has seen income plummet 90% as a result. And the centre has now warned they only have enough reserves to continue until January.

Lincolnshire was chosen as the site of the IBCC because 27 RAF Bomber Command stations - more than a third of the total - were based in the county during World War Two.

The view through the Memorial Spire leads directly to Lincoln Cathedral, reflecting the view that let those of Bomber Command know they were almost home from their missions, and importantly for those who failed to return flying from Lincolnshire, provided their last view of home.

The IBCC, via its digital archive, delivers the most comprehensive coverage of Bomber Command in the world including the contribution and effect on over 60 nations.

There are also two peace gardens: one Lincolnshire and one International.

CEO Nicky Van Der Drift said they have now been given the green light to reopen, but is still facing difficulties because it has been forced to cancel 70 per cent of its bookings and hospitality programmes due to run up to Christmas - and it cannot let as many people in as usual due to social distancing measures.

And Ms Van Der Drift has warned the damage could be terminal.

"It is a threat to all heritage businesses. The reality is we have only been open two years, so we just haven’t had the ability to build up the reserves.

We lost 90 per cent of all of our income including donations during lockdown. More importantly, the impact is long-term because we run events right up until Christmas, which are being cancelled as well as coach bookings, on which we are incredibly reliant.

"We lost 90 per cent of all of our income including donations during lockdown. More importantly, the impact is long-term because we run events right up until Christmas, which are being cancelled as well as coach bookings, on which we are incredibly reliant.

"It has a much longer impact. We have missed out on half of our summer season. This will mean we will struggle without some additional support and an awful lot of visitors to the centre - and we're not allowed to let as many visitors onto the site as normal because of social distancing.”

The centre is largely funded through donations and entry to its exhibition as well as sales in its cafe and shop.

A large portion of income also comes from its esteemed events and corporate, although many of those have been cancelled.

As it stands, the site will struggle to survive past January, Ms Van Der Drift revealed.

But, after years of fighting to get it open, she insists she will not let it crumble without giving it everything to keep it going – and also has plans to launch a fundraising campaign.

She said: “It is a bit like how long is a piece of string, because it really depends on how long these restrictions have to go on for in terms of limiting the numbers and mass gatherings.

“There is very little guidance on when we can start doing bigger events and have hospitality for us is critical.

"Our reserves will take us until the end of January with the funding that we managed to secure through the heritage lottery fund and through the discretionary fund system.

"If things continue to ease and we can bring in more visitors and have events then we will be able to ameliorate that.

“It is just that without any of that we are in danger. But it has to be said that over my dead body am I going to let this project die. It has taken me eight years to get it open."

The heritage centre's plight has shocked locals and veterans.

Mother-of-three Louise Robinson, 39, from Lincoln, said: "My grandmother was working for the RAF at Scampton when the Dam Busters flew out on their mission.

"We have worked so hard to remember those who didn't come back. It would be terrible if we lost all of that now because of the pandemic.

"I'm sure our ancestors wouldn't have given up."

A retired former RAF Wing Commander added: "We can't let this memorial centre shut just a couple of years after it was opened by our heroic veterans.

"It is vital children of the future know their story."

The site, which is based two miles south of Lincoln, has been recognised as one of the best attractions in the country and is shortlisted for the International Tourism Award at VisitEngland's Awards for Excellence.