A FLAGSHIP tourist attraction celebrating a coastal town’s colourful seafaring past is on course to welcome its first visitors this summer.
The £3m Maritime Heritage Centre taking shape on the seafront at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland will bring significant tourism, economic and educational benefits to the area.
Construction work on the landmark building is ahead of schedule, and the centre is due to open its doors to the public in July.
Yesterday scores of townspeople turned out for an official topping out ceremony, marking the final beam being placed at the top of the iconic structure.
The building’s centrepiece attractions 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 Girl Ann.
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.
Yesterday partnership chairman, Richard Martin, said: “It is important for the partners, particularly those not based in the North East, to see how well the project is progressing.
“For all of us, and of course the people of Newbiggin, it is so exciting to see the centre becoming a reality. I’m sure some people thought it would never happen, but because of the enthusiasm and commitment of a small group the centre is taking shape before our eyes.” Yesterday’s topping out ceremony was performed by Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery. He said the project was a product of the Big Society – not the one being promoted by David Cameron, but the work of volunteers and people from the community pulling together like they had done for generations in Newbiggin.
“The centre will bring huge benefits to the local economy, provide an educational resource and add to the North East coastal tourist trail. It has got absolutely fantastic potential,” he added.
Claire Pollock, senior Sea Change adviser with the Commission for Architecture and Built Environment, said: “It’s exciting to see the project on site and the progress that has been made. I have no doubt that the maritime centre will become a real landmark on the Northumberland coast, and add to the cultural offer.”
The centre is also expected to be a major focus of activity for local people, and they have already been involved in coming up with suggestions for the sort of events which will take place there.
Funding is in place for a full-time manager and education officer, and the centre will offer training to young people in the hospitality sector.
The development follows a £12m investment in Newbiggin in 2007, which gave the town a restored sandy beach, a new coast defence breakwater and the iconic Couple sculpture – the UK’s only piece of permanent offshore artwork.