THE relaunch of Oxford’s Story Museum following a massive refurbishment has been delayed due to the coronavirus.

The fantasy factory in Pembroke Street has been closed since last year for a major redesign and was due to open its doors to the public again on April 4 but the celebrations have now been put on ice.

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Once the museum does reopen to show off the £6m revamp, visitors will be able to see new features including the Whispering Wood – a mysterious forest resounding with stories from around the globe.

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And Malorie Blackman and Philip Pullman, who are patrons of the attraction, will have their work featured in the Enchanted Library, an immersive gallery that invites visitors to step inside scenes from eight selected children’s stories.

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Co-director Caroline Jones said: “In the light of the most recent Government advice on minimising the spread of coronavirus, and in order to prioritise the wellbeing of our visitors as well as our staff and volunteers, we have cancelled our previews this week and on Saturday (March 28) and we are postponing our reopening on April 4.

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“This has been a very painful and difficult decision for The Story Museum at such a precarious moment in the museum’s journey, following our extended closure for our £6m redevelopment project and the consequent strain on our resources.

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"With such ongoing uncertainty we are unable to confirm a reopening date at this stage but we will be posting regular story content on our social media channels during this temporary hiatus.

“We will keep you informed of developments on our website and we look forward to welcoming you to our beautiful new galleries just as soon as we are able.”

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When the museum does finally reopen, visitors will be able to see Philip Pullman’s own alethiometer, the symbol-reading device featured in the His Dark Materials trilogy.

And they can brush past fur coats in a wardrobe to emerge into ‘Narnia’, play Poohsticks on a bridge over a fake river and explore Horrid Henry’s bedroom.

Ms Jones added: “We were lucky that we were able to show 500 supporters the changes here earlier this month and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

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“It’s a very frustrating time but we can now use the feedback from our supporters to try to perfect what we have created. This is very much a case of pressing pause and it’s a crushing disappointment for all of us here - we have a new museum but we have to wrap it in cotton wool for the time being.”

Ms Jones said a priority for staff over the next few months would be sharing stories online to support pupils now off school.

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She added: “I have been struck by the energy and creativity of the whole cultural sector here in Oxford reacting to this situation.”

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The £6m campaign to transform the site into a new centre for stories has benefitted from a number of significant grants, including support from Arts Council England, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Wolfson Foundation, and the Foyle Foundation, with investment from the Arts Impact Fund through Nesta Arts and Culture Finance and donations from individuals.