A village is staking its claim for a starring role in the recently-won Dark Sky Park status for an almost 1,500 square kilometre expanse of Northumberland.
Last month an area covering Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water and Forest Park became Europe’s largest area of protected night sky.
The drive for what is England’s first Dark Sky Park has been spearheaded over the past two years by Northumberland National Park Authority, Kielder Water and Forest Park Development Trust and Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society.
The 80-page bid document to the International Dark Skies Association in the United States underlined how light meter readings had shown that Northumberland has the largest area of truly dark sky in England and Kielder Observatory has attracted 43,000 visitors since it opened five years ago.
Annual star camps are held at Kielder, and Cawfields on Hadrian’s Wall is a nominated star-gazing location.
Now Stonehaugh, a village near Wark built in the 1950s for Forestry Commission workers, is working with Masters of Architecture students from Newcastle University to build a star gazing pavilion.
Work has started on the site on the edge of the village and it is hoped that the circular wooden pavilion will be complete by next month.
The 15 students, in co-operation with the Kielder Art and Architecture Programme, presented several proposals to villagers.
The pavilion was the popular choice and as well as providing shelter for star gazers, it can also be used for observing wildlife.
It will be set in a new wildflower meadow and will have a planted green roof.
Villagers and the Forestry Commission have offered to help with labour and materials.
Graham Farmer, director of architecture at Newcastle University, said: “It’s a beautiful site. This project has give the students the opportunity to work with a rural community.
”As the area builds a reputation for star gazing and more people become interested in that, it is an opportunity to attract more visitors to Stonehaugh.”
The pavilion follows the opening in 2010 of the village’s new pine community hall, housing its social club, which includes ground source heat and solar panels, after 10 years of fundraising.
The hall was built to replace the social club’s meeting place which was transported to Stonehaugh in 1956 having served as a prisoner of war hut in Wales.
A composting public toilet has also now been provided and there are plans to hire warm clothing and binoculars to visiting star watchers.
Annie Hutchinson represents Stonehaugh on Wark Parish Council of which she is chairman.
She said: “We have lovely dark, starry skies and we think that this could help us develop sustainable tourism and protect our village’s rural character.
“Villagers can’t wait to get the pavilion finished and are keen to lend a hand.
“The students made their presentations and everyone was very keen on the idea.
“I think people come to live in Stonehaugh because of its tranquility and night sky, which is often a conversation piece in the community.
“A lot of work went into the Dark Sky Park bid and it is an opportunity for us.
“People are already asking if they can hire the pavilion.”
As part of the presentations, the students outlined one of their previous projects, the U-cafe on the university campus.
The cafe was created last year entirely from waste materials.
The aim was to encourage people to regard what is currently viewed as waste as instead material which has value and can be easily be re-used.