SCHOOLCHILDREN who flock in their thousands to the British Museum will soon have a home of their own in the stunning new Queen Elizabeth II Great Court which opens in January.
The Ford Centre for Young Visitors and the Clore Education Centre are situated in a covered courtyard surrounding the famous circular Reading Room which was re-opened by the Queen this week.
The two-acre space has been turned into Europe's largest covered square in a pound;100 million development that has also created some of the biggest museum educational facilities in the world.
Half the money came from Millennium and Heritage lottery grants, the rest was raised from private donations by a committee chaired by Sir Claus Moser, who also chairs the Basic Skills Agency.
The British Library's move to its new home in St Pancras in 1998 allowed the courtyard, hidden for the past 150 years, to be opened up under a glass-and steel roof designed by Norman Foster, the world famous architect behind projects such as Stansted airport, the Reichstag and London's wobbly Millennium bridge.
John Reeve, the museum's head of education, says the restored circular Reading Room will be the hub of the education service. he azure, cream and gold dome that housed the British Library was once open only to a select number of scholars and writers, including Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Now it is open to everyone.
Teachers, students and children can use the Paul Hamlyn reference library of 25,000 books, catalogues and materials on the museum collections; and a data base will give them access to 5,000 objects via computer terminals with links to national curriculum subjects.
Mr Reeve predicts an increase in "seriously under-nourished pigeons" as school parties will no longer have to sit under the front colonnade with packed lunches - a common sight all year round - as the Ford Centre has room for 1,200 people to eat. There will be staff to give advice. and space to work and meet.
The Clore Education Centre which is under the courtyard, will allow the museum's education service to expand. Five seminar rooms, two lecture theatres with corresponding foyer space and an ICT room will replace two lecture halls several hundred yards apart in outlying buildings. Nelson Mandela opened the largest, 320-seat, theatre last month with a rousing address to a distinguished audience.