Gary Fildes, founder of Kielder Observatory in Northumberland, will be recognised at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light by Sunderland University on Thursday, for his contribution to the region.
Sunderland University’s will present Gary, 51, with an honorary award, along with seven other distinguished figures in front of over 3000 graduates, whilst ITV’s Alastair Stewart will be the guest speaker.
The former Sunderland bricklayer, always had a passion for astronomy from the age of four years old, but being brought up in the 70’s in a mining and working class community, any aspirations of being an astronomer, were kept secret.
However, that was to change when Gary joined Sunderland Astronomical Society in his mid 30’s. Gary ran ‘Star Camps’ in Kielder in 2003, running for five years, before handing it over to Sunderland Astronomical Society to continue.
Gary says “ Astro tourism was born in Kielder then and is now in the world’s top ten star sites. Perhaps appropriately, around the turn of the Millennium, things begun to move quickly, when I was asked to do talks about the constellations, how to find the North star and other astro stuff.” These talks proved so popular that Gary began to dream of building an observatory at Kielder.
With Gary’s passion now running higher than ever, this led to many openings and after a chance meeting with the Art & Architecture curator for Kielder Water and Forest Park, it transformed everything.
Around 2006, a management group was pulled together and a design competition was launched through the Royal Institute of British Architects to design an observatory, where 227 entries were submitted.
After an investment cost of £450,000, Kielder Observatory opened in April 2008, with visitor numbers now standing at over 23,000 annually. This is set to increase with the second observatory, which is scheduled to open to the public in 2018.
Gary says “I am so honoured to be receiving this award from Sunderland University. An amazing recognition for what I have strived to achieve. I firmly believe that astronomy is a humbling experience that can benefit us all, no matter what your background or educational experience. My hope is that the little things I have done will serve to inspire others. Oh and I will have my Red and White shirt on too…”