Birnbeck Pier saved from brink of collapse as part of £20m government funding for England’s heritage


Birnbeck Pier will be saved from the brink of collapse thanks to £3,55m of funding awarded by the National Heritage Memorial Fund from the Cultural Assets Fund (CAF).

Since opening in 1867, Birnbeck Pier has been part of the DNA of Weston-super-Mare as a traditional seaside town, played a vital role during the Second World War as a site of experimental activities and weapons testing and was the backdrop to a famous 1963 publicity photograph of the then up and coming group The Beatles.

It is also the only pier in the UK to link to an island. As well as a great claim to fame, the link allowed the RNLI to set up a lifeboat station on Birnbeck Island in 1882 and for 132 years volunteer lifeboat crew used the pier to access their station.

However, the pier was closed to the public in 1994 and it was placed on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register in 1999. The RNLI were forced to leave their station on the island in 2014 as the pier became too dangerous to walk across. After decades of neglect and deterioration, accelerated by stretched resources during the pandemic, the Grade II* Listed pier is in grave danger of collapsing into the sea.

For many years, partners have worked together to try to save the pier. There is now hope on the horizon as North Somerset Council, have joined forces with the RNLI to secure its future.

With today’s funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and further funding from Historic England and the RNLI, the ‘legs’ of the pier will be stabilised and restored and a walkway installed, reinstating access to the Island. This vital first phase will allow North Somerset Council to move forward with their plans to see the Island regenerated for the benefit of the Weston community enabling the RNLI to pursue their ambition to re-establish a lifesaving facility on the island.

Mark Canniford, Executive Member for Placemaking and Economy at North Somerset Council, said: “This money is vital in our efforts to save the pier and start regenerating this treasured site. We are working tirelessly to secure a sale with the private owner, whilst continuing in parallel with the Compulsory Purchase Order. We hope this will shortly result in us owning the pier and allow us to start using the National Heritage  Memorial Funding to save the pier, restore public access and get the RNLI back onto the island to continue their lifesaving work.”

Adrian Carey, RNLI Head of Region, said: "This successful grant funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund is a significant step towards North Somerset Council’s wider plan for the regeneration of Birnbeck. The grant means that the RNLI can move forward with the next stage of engineering and design works to restore access to the Island and reinstate a volunteer lifeboat station. While the success of the project is still dependent on many factors the charity is encouraged by this positive news."

Administered by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the government funded Cultural Assets Fund has awarded over £20m to nationally important heritage sites and assets across England which were left at risk because of the pandemic.

Birnbeck Pier is one of 11 projects sharing the funding. The others are:

  • Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (£9.9m)
  • SS Shieldhall (£196,415)
  • Torre Abbey (£363,748)
  • Vigilance of Brixham (£820,000)
  • Joem Locomotive (£123,842)
  • Type Archive Collective (£1,409,861)
  • Hurst Castle (£500,000)
  • Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills (£420,575)
  • Macclesfield Silk Mills (£308,975)
  • Historic Chapels Trust (£3.6m)

Dr Simon Thurley, Chair of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: “I am thrilled to announce our funding for the future of Birnbeck Pier which will support The RNLI and North Somerset Council in their mission to bring this hugely important heritage site back into beneficial use.  

“We’re extremely proud to have administered £20m of government funding for some of England’s incredible heritage sites and assets – from historic ships and locomotives to castles and chapels – helping them to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.”

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: “This is most welcome news for Birnbeck Pier and for Weston-super-Mare. We have been proud to work with the Council, the RNLI and others over many years to try to save this celebrated Victorian structure. This award is an important milestone and brings our collective vision for the pier a step closer to being realised.

Arts Minister Stuart Andrew, Department of Digital, Culture Media and Sport, said: "I'm delighted that we are supporting the regeneration of Birnbeck Pier with £3.55 million in funding. Heritage is an important part of what makes a place so special. It connects us to our history, brings in visitors and makes us proud of where we live. Thanks to this National Heritage Memorial Fund grant, this iconic pier will once again be the pride of Weston-super-Mare."