Our editor, Louise Steel visits Leicester’s Retro Computer Museum for a few virtual kicks, and a trip down memory lane…
From the outside, Leicester’s Retro Computer Museum doesn’t look like much. It sits on an average industrial estate in Thurmaston and although a blue heritage panel stands outside, there is nothing else to suggest that there’s anything overly remarkable inside.
However, the building conceals a colourful and extraordinary world of nostalgia, electric adventure and escapism. 40,000 video games, over 4,000 computers/consoles and much more sit inside the premises, attracting dozens of retro gaming enthusiasts every weekend, as well as those keen to reclaim a few hours of precious childhood…
Walking in to the facility is like walking into an ‘Aladdin’s cave’ of gaming history. Every shelf and corner is filled with coveted games and artefacts – a treasure trove of virtual vintage nostalgia.
’Street Fighter,’ ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ and ‘Super Mario 64’ are just some of classic games which catch my eye, and I feel a surge of excitement run through me. After all, they are not just for looking at. Everything is available to play on site, and my inner child is more than ready to get my hands on a Sega Mega Drive – a wondrous machine which served as the centrepiece of my life in the mid 90s!
However, first I must fulfil my adult duties and find out how this amazing place came to be in Leicester.
The man with the answers is Andy Spencer – a computer enthusiast who began this mind-blowing collection inside his garage back in 2008.
After exhibiting it at a local village hall, interest grew and people began to donate items – swelling his collection until it could no longer be contained at his home in Whitwick.
In 2015, he made the decision to open the ‘Retro Computer Museum’ as a registered charity, and to move the collection to its current base in Troon Way Business Centre.
“It turned out to be a lot bigger than anybody expected and it’s going to keep growing. I walk in and it still destroys my brain that we’ve got so many games!” revealed Andy, who’s Chairman of the charity.
“There have actually been a couple of times when it’s actually made me cry because it’s so overwhelming. The support we’ve had from several individuals is unbelievable and we’re run entirely by volunteers – extremely passionate and knowledgeable individuals who bring their skills to the place and give their time to make it what it is.”
The museum boasts a wide variety of computer and console systems from the 1950s onwards. These include the early Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and NES, through to more recent consoles like the GameCube, Playstation 2 and Xbox.
Andy gives me a tour of the premises and his passion and knowledge bubbles over as he points out several rare items; the 1,000,000th Amiga Computer and a prototype ‘Game Boy’ device known as the ‘Playboy.’
However, we soon move onto the topic of the classic Mega Drive and ‘Street Fighter II’ – a colourful and extremely popular fighting game, which I played obsessively as a kid.
Andy sets me up to play, and I am delighted to find that the game is still as iconic as I remember, and I get a kick out of blitzing my opponents with my character of choice (Chun Li of course).
They don’t make them like they used to – it’s a cliche but it does’t make it any less true I think to myself as I admire the timeless graphics, the music and the fighters, who feel very much like old friends…
Another game which still holds up in the world of retro gaming is ‘Pong’ – a simple (but super addictive) ping-pong game from 1972.
Manufactured by Atari, Andy tells me that it’s one of the best (and most popular) games in the museum. At first I’m
sceptical. However, after a few minutes of batting the ball back and fourth, I’m well and truly hooked. Simple things I
Over 100 people pass through the doors of the Retro Computer Museum over the course of a weekend, with many
staying all day to indulge their electric dreams. And I can understand why.
The place has a great atmosphere and everything you need; food on site, plus sofas to kick back on and relax. There are friendly knowledgeable volunteers on hand to chat to, and a life-sized model of Lara Croft to admire (if you’re that way inclined!)
“We’ve had people from Switzerland and Germany come to visit before – it’s wonderful,” Andy told Pukaar. “When people visit multiple times and they don’t live locally, you think ‘yeah, we’ve got something right here. It makes me really proud to think where we started and where we are today.
“When we first opened, I’ll be the first to admit it was full of geeks and nerds (like me!). However we get a lot of families in now,” he added.
“We also do school visits, scout visits and corporate team building events, competitions and other special events.
“Hopefully in the not too distant future we’re going to run workshops, where we can do coding, electronics, graphic
design – pretty much anything really…”
Insured for over £10million, Leicester’s Retro Computer Museum is one of the largest centres of its kind. And it’s set to get even bigger in 2024. There are plans to move into a bigger premises on the same estate early in the year, and Andy couldn’t be more excited.
“It will allow us to double the size of the library. People are gobsmacked when they see it now, but it will be absolutely phenomenal – I can see it now,” he enthuses, with eyes lit up
“Watch this space!”
Visit www.retrocomputermuseum.co.uk to find out more.