A VISITOR centre to boost Northumberland National Park takes a big step forward today.
The £10.5m Sill building would replace the current 1960s Once Brewed tourism information centre and youth hostel on Hadrian’s Wall.
The aim of the new centre is to inspire visitors to explore the whole of the national park and its landscape, history and wildlife.
It is expected to increase visitor numbers from the current 45,000 a year at Once Brewed to 120,000, generating £1.4m for the economy and creating and supporting 60 jobs.
Today, Northumberland National Park and the Youth Hostel Association will announce they have appointed award winning Newcastle-based Jane Darbyshire and David Kendall Architects to explore initial concepts for The Sill.
The move is part of development work following the award of almost £400,000 a year ago by the Heritage Lottery Fund to work up ideas for the venture.
This will lead to a bid for a full grant of more than £6m.
“This will be a flagship centre for the national park and will be of the landscape and inspired by the landscape,” said Sill project co-ordinator Laura Sole.
It is named after the Great Whin Sill, the band of distinctive, hard rock which outcrops in the North East from Lindisfarne and Hadrian’s Wall to Teesdale.
The idea is for the centre to use whinstone in its construction and feature various roofs, including turf and heather thatch, and viewing platforms.
The centre would also include educational facilities and activities, and cater for visiting groups in an adjacent high-class 8o-bed hostel, while also selling and promoting local goods and produce.
The vision is that it will serve as a hub from which people can explore more of the 400sq miles of Northumberland National Park and its history from hill forts to the Reivers.
Tony Gates, park chief executive, said: “This area has built up a fantastic international reputation for its association with Hadrian’s Wall and Roman history but it is often also the broader landscape which makes a lasting impression on visitors and inspires them to return.
“The Sill project will place all of Northumberland National Park and the wider landscapes of the North East on the global map for a whole new set of reasons around its unique and magnificent geographic and geological significance.
“The building itself will offer a fantastic educational asset and resource for the North East and UK as a whole, as well as very real gains in terms of attracting visitor numbers and spend, creating new jobs and boosting the local economy. Our aim is nothing short of transforming how people engage with landscapes.
“We are now looking forward to sharing these with the public and inviting them to help us shape and create a world-class visitor experience.”
JDDK director Nicky Watson said: “We’re delighted to have been appointed for this exciting project alongside Glen Kemp as landscape architects and Cundalls as planning consultants. We’re now looking forward to developing the proposals .”
YHA property director, Jake Chalmers, said: “We’re excited at the way our partnership with the national park will revitalise our presence here. People value the history, beauty and landscape of this place and the welcome and social atmosphere we offer, so much so that we’ve had a youth hostel here since 1934.”
HERITAGE CASH AWARDS
CASH awards totalling more than £71,000 have been made to two heritage projects in Northumberland.
A volunteer-led project to explore the 19th Century Kielder Viaduct, which is now a listed Ancient Monument, and a venture to study bats along Hadrian’s Wall have each received Heritage Lottery Fund grants.
Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust has been given £34,500 following the 50th anniversary celebrations of the viaduct last year.
The trust will work on a six-month project focusing on the social and industrial heritage surrounding the viaduct, with help from volunteers of the newly formed Kielder History Group. Julie Webb, from the group, said: "This will help us to focus on this area of our community’s history and bring this fascinating subject to the enjoyment of locals and visitors."
A grant of £36,900 has gone to
Batlife, a three-year National Trust wildlife project which will research bats living along the Hadrian’s Wall national trail and in and around the surrounding lakes and woods.
Eric Wilton, National Trust Hadrian’s Wall countryside manager, said
"This is a fantastic project that will enable us to link closely with our local community and schools to help us all gain a better understanding of the bat species of Northumberland."