• Transform magazine
  • September 16, 2019

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Bodmin Jail's brand experience

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The Cornish civil parish of Bodmin has, over the years, been subject to numerous myths. Perhaps most famous is its mythical big cat, which after numerous sightings has become known as ‘the Beast of Bodmin Moor.’ Yet perhaps the biggest contribution to the Bodmin area’s numerous tales of the supernatural is Bodmin Jail. Despite being opened in 1779 and closed almost a century ago in 1927, fascination with the institution and its ghost stories remains. The jail’s continued importance in informing the Cornish town’s heritage is reflected in the £30 million development of a new, immersive Bodmin Jail brand experience.

Set to open in 2019 – 240 years after the jail – the Bodmin Jail brand development project sees much of the Grade II listed building’s current dilapidated state transformed with scenic sets, films, audio and theatrical effects to encourage visitor participation. London-based Sarner leads the brand update, a visitor attraction agency also behind place brand experiences for institutions including the Science Museum, BBC Worldwide’s Doctor Who Experience, George Washington’s Mount Vernon in the USA, the Fram Museum in Norway and Malta’s National War Museum.

Preservation of history is the main driving force behind Bodmin Jail’s renovation. The building in which much of the development work will take place is notorious for being the site of Bodmin Jail’s 50 public executions – many of which were carried out by infamous executioner, Henry Pierrepoint. To attract a more contemporary audience, Sarner’s plans also include the curation of an exhibition and opening of a restaurant, hotel and retail space. While providing entertainment, the experience also aims to educate and inform its myriad visitors about the prison’s residents and daily life as a convict.

And, with Bodmin’s surrounding moor often considered among the UK’s bleakest settings, the Bodmin Jail brand experience does not neglect to include a journey through the Cornish landscape. The immersive effects created by Sarner will include the coastline, legendary for its smugglers and coves, a traverse through isolated villages and a spell at the Bodmin Assize Court where criminals were sentenced.

Such dramatic changes to the Bodmin Jail experience will, says Michael Bennett, creative director at Sarner, generate visitor interest about the lives of local people. It should also serve to educate the injustices some criminals faced for the pettiest of crimes.  “Our inspiration came from the stories we learned about Bodmin Jail,” says Bennett. “The treatment of prisoners, some whose crimes only amounted to stealing a sheep, will stun visitors. We’ve selected our theme – ‘Don’t stray from the path’ – to show how treacherous life could be for anyone who veered from the straight and narrow.”

Alongside Sarner, the team appointed to deliver this project include Twelve Architects, Montagu Evans, Arup, Turner & Townsend and Astute Fire.