What you can see at Wroxham Miniature Worlds has been in development since early 2011 and has taken a small team over three years of hard work to bring to you. The attraction is spread over nearly 15,000 square feet that’s almost 1/3 of an acre of undercover attraction! The first 12 months was spent developing the model prototypes, detailed business plans and the inevitable planning applications that would be required to get the project off the ground. It wasn’t just raising the money or getting the planning permission, building the models would consume more model railway products than any other single project ever in the UK!
It was a nervous moment when six months into the project the planning application was submitted to North Norfolk District Council being such a large scale attraction right on the boundary of the Broads National Park. We had an idea, a proposal but it all hung on how the idea would be received by both the planning department and the local residents. Just before Christmas 2011 the project was given the “green light” by the council having received no objections whatsoever.
We began building the full scale prototype layouts in February 2012 in what was essentially on open 5,000 sqft building developing what would be the largest model railway layouts on permanent public display. The build time was estimated to be approximately 18 months, which would mean opening in time for the August Summer holidays in 2013. A tentative date was set for April/May 2013 opening but we knew we had a long way to go and no idea how we would shave the three months from the build schedule.
So far the project had had a charmed life garnering the support of the bank, the planners, the local residents, the model railway trade and we had built up a band of volunteers to work alongside the development team of contractors and employees. It would take around 100,000 man hours of work and the complete overhaul of a warehouse into a building suitable for the admission of the public and all we could do was hope that everything would go to plan. With luck this good we knew it would run out at some point… it was just when!
The plan was simple we would build four of the largest models of their type in the UK and then move them from one building into another! The final home of the attraction was a building that was still being used as a warehouse and would not be available to us until November 2012 at the earliest so the layouts some up to 100ft long would have to be built on wheels and rolled into the building next door. This kind of thing had never been attempted, moving layouts this size in one piece with all the track work electrics and scenic foundations in place. The team had put a lot of work developing the framework system to be both strong enough and flexible enough to be moved and negotiate their way through the only doorway big enough to move them. As we constructed more and more layouts it became a massive game of “Tetris” that was planned down to the last foot.
The inevitable delays began to mount but they came from an unexpected source. We had pre-bought a lot of the materials we needed for the project before we started construction however as we got towards the half way point in the build we were ordering specific items to finish off areas and we were causing many of these items to go “out of stock” with the UK Wholesalers and sometimes even the manufacturers. Items that maybe sold 100 a year we were buying by the thousand and some items would be months before being back in stock. The project paused for a while in summer 2013 while a small but dedicated team started constructing the 12ft high mountain range at the back of the European Layout whilst we struggled to resolve the issues with supply.
We started importing items from Europe, America and Japan individually whilst our suppliers began getting batches of items “flown in” for us rather than waiting for it to come by sea and within a month or so the items started to arrive and we were back on track, albeit a month behind schedule. It is at this point that one company in particular “Gaugemaster” proved to be a life saver their sales manager “Julian Lilley” doing everything to locate some of the most obscure items from around the world. It is not just Gaugemaster we have to thank, Hornby and Bachmann also helped us greatly to procure the supplies that we needed. Although it must be said that some items we wanted are still out of stock today, it seems that the ripples caused in the supply chain by devouring so much equipment are still being felt 18 months later. The shortage of model bits and pieces meant that instead of being able to draw in more staff to try and get ready for spring 2013 we were back to our original 18 month build schedule and meant opening mid September 2013 was inevitable.
The delays didn’t stop with the lack of model railway track and scenic items the conversion of the building next door involved erecting a 40ft high wall and emptying racks and racks of furniture meaning that this was running over two months behind schedule. Everybody was working as hard as they could but the sheer scale of the project was making life difficult getting items in sufficient numbers from simple things like the dozens of display cabinets and pots of floor paint to cover 10,000sqft were all becoming difficult
In mid January 2013 the big move finally took place almost three months behind schedule and the attraction you see today began to take shape. The layouts were tentatively rolled into their new homes. The problem though was we had been forced to build more in the development building than we had originally planned so there was far less space to move things around in. I had a very sleepless night the night before the big move, it had been planned down to the last foot and there were only inches to spare as the layouts negotiated through the doorway. It all went well, one set of trapped fingers and some damaged pride the only casualties of the move.
The whole attraction is more than 250ft long and over 80ft wide at its widest point covering almost the size of a football pitch! It was only as we started to finish things off does the number of corners to be protected, the amount of walls to be painted and glass to be fitted hit home. We were behind schedule but plans for a mid September opening were in place until at the beginning of August 2013 tragedy struck when an adjacent building caught fire. Nobody was hurt in the fire but it gutted a warehouse, filled the attraction with smoke and burned for over 6 hours. More than a dozen fire trucks filled the site and the Wroxham to Cromer railway line had to be closed. We were unable to get back inside for 4 days to assess the damage and the warehouse was without power for almost four weeks. I am not sure if this was the only bad luck the project would suffer or if it was good fortune that it didn’t happen whilst the attraction was open but it was certainly a game changer.
We struggled on finishing off the model railways without power but it became clear that the fire alarm system of the site was damaged, that the contractors we had booked couldn’t do what was necessary without power and getting the site safe for the public would be impossible for a mid September opening. With a heavy heart we put off the opening until spring 2014 and reduced to a skeleton staff to finish the last few jobs off. The models were complete by mid October 2013 and staff moved onto “phase 2” of the project getting ready for the construction of the indoor garden railway and the centrepiece of the attraction preparing the room for the construction of the world’s largest “OO” gauge model railway covering over 3,000 sqft.
This is being written with about two months to go before opening as we start to pull together the final parts of the attraction such as the café, the toilets, the shop area, admissions counter and all the other things necessary for an indoor attraction. It has been a massive project which has to be seen to be believed but I will try and sum up a few of the superlatives.
- We have used over 20 miles of wire to wire up the layouts
- We have used enough wood if laid end to end to stretch from Wroxham to Norwich.
- We have used enough Plywood to cover 4 tennis courts.
- We have used over 5 miles of plaster bandage to create the scenery.
- We have used over 1 ton of plaster to create the mountains and other scenery.
- We have used enough fibreglass to build a yacht in creating the mountains.
- We have used more than 10,000 screws in assembling the layout frames.
- More than 50,000 man hours have gone into creating the attraction.
- We have used over 10,000 trees to create the scenery
- There are over 5,000 individual model people.
- There are over 2,500 individual pieces of model railway track about 70 scale miles.
- There are over 300 model buildings more than some villages!
- There are over 100 trains and over 1000pieces of rolling stock.
- There are over 1000 non model railway items on display.
- We have used over 75,000 Lego™ bricks.
- We have used over 10,000 pieces of KNEX to construct a massive ball machine.
- At peak, we have had over 25 people working on site at any one time.
There have been so many highs and so many lows in the creation of the attraction you can see today but there are also many people without whom the attraction would not have been built. All of them have dedicated so much time and gone above and beyond the call of duty to make this a reality. I will try and name them all but apologise if I miss anybody. Sean, Ray, Mark, Lloyd, Malcolm, Kyle, Sarah, Rob, Josh, Steve, Dave, Dave, Ian, Ian, John, John, Mike, Philip, Roy, Roy, Ryan, Anthony, Tony, Tony, Paul, Darren, Julian, Stuart, Carolyn, Colin, Marcus, Graham, Jamie, Spencer .
But most thanks must go to the following: Josh for his unending efforts to build the impossible, Sarah for single handedly assembling over 75,000 Lego bricks and Rob for almost singlehandedly laying every piece of track. Keith for his amazing flexibility, Lloyd for helping with the designs of the layouts , Ray for stepping into the firing line when I was taken into hospital, and of course a big thank you to every volunteer we have ever had, I thank you all.