WORK has finally started on a £3m visitor centre which will celebrate the proud seafaring past of a Northumberland coastal town.
The flagship maritime heritage centre – on the promenade overlooking Newbiggin-by-the-Sea – is aimed at attracting more tourists and their spending power to an area where millions of pounds has been invested in recent years.
The nearby Woodhorn Museum was revamped at a cost of £16m to become a nationally-renowned attraction, while £12m was spent on giving Newbiggin itself a new sandy beach and breakwater with the iconic offshore sculpture Couple.
Construction work is now under way on the new heritage centre, which will overlook Newbiggin Bay and is close to the community’s RNLI lifeboat station, the oldest of its kind in the country.
The centrepiece attractions of the iconic building will be the restored Mary Joicey, the last seagoing lifeboat to be stationed in Newbiggin, and one of the last of the town’s fleet of traditional fishing cobles.
The project has been devised by a team of local volunteers, who six years ago formed the Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Heritage Partnership to deliver it.
They secured £1m core funding from the national Sea Change programme to regenerate coastal communities, and have also had financial backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the county council, the former Wansbeck Council and the Go Wansbeck business initiative. It is hoped the new centre will be ready to open its doors for the first time next summer.
Other attractions will include exhibitions telling the story of Newbiggin’s centuries-old fishing industry and the town’s lifeboat service. There will also be a cafe, meeting rooms, communal facilities and a multi-purpose room.
Local people are being offered the chance to have a stake in the ownership of the building through a Buy a Brick initiative, for as little as £1.
They can make a donation of £1, £5, £20, £50 or £500 to buy a brick, with all of the money raised being used to help enhance the exhibitions and displays, as well as the internal and external fittings of the building.
Larger donations will qualify for a certificate and annual passes to the centre, with the biggest contributors receiving an invitation to its official opening, along with a unique surprise gift. Local lifeboat volunteer Richard Martin, who chairs the Heritage Partnership, said: “We are hoping local residents and businesses, as well as people with connections to Newbiggin or who have simply enjoyed visiting here in the past, will want to buy a brick.
“It will help us complete what will be a wonderful new amenity telling the story of our past. By donating even a small amount of money they will be buying a stake in this new maritime centre that will complement the tremendous work that has been done in recent years to revitalise Newbiggin as an attractive seaside resort.
“With Christmas coming along, buying a brick could even be a special gift for someone with a connection to Newbiggin.”