LONG-awaited plans to turn a rare collection of wartime relics into a visitor and education complex have been given the final green light thanks to a £525,000 package of funding.
Blyth Battery – which was built on the town’s seaside links to defend the port during two world wars – has been described as the best surviving example of an anti-aircraft battery on the east coast of Britain.
For more than a decade, Blyth Valley Council and local heritage enthusiasts have been working to bring the collection of buildings back into use as a visitor attraction and educational resource.
Now it is all systems go for the project after it secured £250,000 funding from the Heritage Lottery, £125,000 from English Heritage and £150,000 from the borough council.
Over the next three years the magazine and shelter buildings will be refurbished and opened as a visitor centre and the other wartime structures will be restored, allowing the battery to deliver an events and activities programme for the local community.
It is another key element of a £4m programme to revitalise Blyth Links, which has already seen the creation of a public plaza, amenity building and children’s play area, the 80-year-old bandstand restored and an £800,000 scheme drawn up to build 20 beach chalets and improve the promenade.
Blyth Battery is made up of twin gun emplacements, searchlight towers and their associated buildings, and boasts some features said to be internationally significant.
Yesterday Dr Keith Bartlett, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in the North East, said: “This project will transform the battery into a real asset for the area, offering opportunities for local people, visitors and schoolchildren to learn about this incredibly important part of Blyth Valley and Britain’s wartime history.”
A Friends of Blyth Battery group has been set up to help progress the project. The volunteer group will spearhead a scheme to shape how the story of the battery is told to visitors.
Council leader Dave Stephens said the battery restoration would fit in perfectly with wider regeneration efforts aimed at improving the key Blyth Links gateway. Carol Pyrah, planning and development regional director for English Heritage, said: “Blyth Battery played an important role in Blyth and the North East’s wartime history.
“Our heritage is a non-renewable resource, once it’s gone you can’t get it back and that’s why we need new and appropriate uses for these special places.”
BLYTH Battery was built for the First World War and later dug out and upgraded for use during the Second World War. The Grade II-listed complex was officially designated as a scheduled monument by the Government in 2006.
It is made up of twin gun emplacements, searchlight platforms, an observation post, rangefinder tower and an engine house.
The three-year restoration project will include the repair of all the buildings, refurbishment of the magazine and shelter buildings as visitor centres, a community heritage project, a volunteer training programme and a heritage officer post.
The Friends of Blyth Battery group will supervise the restored complex and lead guided tours every Saturday and Sunday from May to September.