GUARDIANS of two flagship sites along Hadrian’s Wall have failed in a bid to secure lottery cash for a £4.1m project to improve their visitor, research and education facilities.
The Vindolanda Trust – which manages the Vindolanda Roman fort near Bardon Mill and the Roman Army Museum at Greenhead – has been left hugely disappointed after its bid for a £2.8m grant was rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The two sites attract around 135,000 visitors a year and the project aimed to enhance their appeal to tourists, upgrade their prestigious archaeological volunteer and education facilities and improve public access.
At Vindolanda the plan included extended space for exhibitions, a new building to house volunteer activities and educational courses, accommodation for people taking part in on-site excavations, new offices for archaeologists and better access.
It would also have potentially allowed the return on loan of some of the priceless Roman writing tablets unearthed at the site.
At the Roman Army Museum, the scheme would have meant new exhibitions and the upgrading and extension of the popular “eagle’s eye” film taking visitors along Hadrian’s Wall and its attractions.
The HLF decision means the Vindolanda Trust will now have to re-evaluate the project and decide what elements can be salvaged and taken forward without major funding support.
Yesterday Trust director Patricia Birley said: “We are obviously very disappointed because we feel this is a vibrant and sustainable project which would have really lifted the Hadrian’s Wall world heritage site.
“It is very much a scheme based on the strengths of the Trust and which would see us moving forward into a new and exciting area. We feel it is a package with something for everyone, whether it be visitors, education users, volunteers or researchers.
“We have given it our best shot and we will now have to look at the project and examine whether there are other ways of doing it. Some elements might have to go, regretfully. Over the years we have had just over £500,000 from the HLF but this was our first big application.
“We believe the project has the capability to fully utilise and expand upon the key strengths of the Trust for the benefit of our research programme, visitors and volunteers, and to substantially increase our contribution to the regional and local economy.”
The Trust secured £377,000 from the HLF to fund a new visitor entrance feature at Vindolanda last year, and £145,000 in 2003 to open the film theatre at the Roman Wall Museum where visitors can take an aerial journey along the Wall.
The Trust was set up in 1970 for the excavation, preservation and public enjoyment of the two sites, which both lie in the central section of Hadrian’s Wall. It depends entirely on visitor income for its funding and employs 37 local people.