TWO new attractions have been officially opened at Milestones Museum this week by a government minister.

Culture minister Caroline Dinenage opened Mr Simpson’s Teddy Bear Museum and the Milestones Pier, two major new visitor attractions at Basingstoke’s museum of living history, which is operated by Hampshire Cultural Trust.

The opening was also attended by Maria Miller, MP for Basingstoke, and representatives from both Hampshire County Council and Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council.

Mr Simpson’s Teddy Bear Museum is a walk through the history of the teddy bear. The museum is the result of a legacy from Mr William – or Bill – Simpson, whose collection of teddy bears began in 1917, when his father bought him his first bear, Rupert, while he was on leave from the First World War. Bill Simpson’s love for teddy bears grew and he became an avid collector throughout his life, amassing a vast and valuable collection of more than 260 bears. Bill Simpson left his entire collection, along with a legacy for the bears to be cared for and kept together, to Hampshire Cultural Trust’s predecessor, Hampshire County Council Museums Service. The bears have now been conserved and, as a result of Bill Simpson’s generous legacy, are on display to the public together for the very first time.

The second attraction to be opened Monday (July 19), was the Milestones Pier. The museum’s former penny arcade has been completely transformed and now stands proud as the Milestones Pier, a unique seaside experience where a traditional boardwalk and vintage arcade machines from the turn of the 20th century through to the 1980s await visitors to Milestones. Objects from the collections cared for by Hampshire Cultural Trust feature strongly in both new attractions, showcasing and celebrating Hampshire’s social and cultural heritage.

Milestones was closed to the public for a total of 37 weeks during the pandemic, but work carried on behind the scenes to enable both of these new attractions to be ready for re-opening.

This included the conservation of all of Mr Simpson’s bears, much of which was completed by Hampshire Cultural Trust’s team of conservators while working from home.

Caroline Dinenage said: "It was an honour to officially open these two brilliant attractions at Milestones Museum. The past year has presented many challenges for our culture and heritage sectors, which is why we've provided an unprecedented £2 billion in support. I'm delighted to see the sector fully reopen today and welcoming visitors back through their doors."

Paul Sapwell, chief executive of Hampshire Cultural Trust, added: "We were delighted to welcome Caroline Dinenage to Milestones. We are also incredibly grateful for the support that we as an organisation have received from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport through the Cultural Recovery Fund.

"I am immensely proud of the whole team who - under very challenging circumstances - have been so committed over the last months not only to progressing but to completing both of these projects: it is very fitting that on ‘freedom day’ the results of their hard work are now on display for our visitors to see."