The Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre will be a community hub, providing a tourist attraction for visitors, exhibitions and interpretation about the fascinating local heritage, heritage skills training for volunteers and an incubation space for fledgling businesses to develop. In addition, the site will be home to a small café and gift shop, which will both specialise in offering local produce. It is estimated that the centre will benefit the local economy to the tune of at least £500,000 each year.
However, the environmental, regeneration and skills charity needs to raise further funds in order to reach the £1.3m required to secure the project’s future. It hopes that an online crowd funding campaign, set to be launched in the New Year , will help to plug the gap. The project has also received a £6,000 development grant from HLF and will apply for the full grant at a later date.
Kate Culverhouse, Chief Executive of Groundwork North East & Cumbria, said: “The Centre will be a fantastic addition to the heritage and cultural offering of the fascinating Derwent Valley in the North East.
“Not only will the Centre be a fantastic resource for the community, schools and colleges, it will also be hugely beneficial to the local economy driving visitors to the area who will spend money in nearby shops, pubs and restaurants. It will create sustainable jobs and provide training and volunteering opportunities, giving local people the chance to improve their skills, ultimately helping them to gain long-term employment.
“We are so close to securing the final portion of funding, but we need the help of the public and businesses to get us over this final hurdle. We are on the cusp of creating an important centre for culture and skills hoping to start building work in 2017 to open in time for the Great Exhibition of the North in summer 2018. However, we need to ensure that the final portion of funding is there to make this dream come true. I would urge anyone who can spare a few pounds to get involved with our fundraising campaign and help us to secure this amazing community asset for future generations.”
Groundwork’s plans for the site have been well-received by the local community with more than 200 people attending information events earlier this year. Local residents were consulted on the design of the building, choosing the ‘water wheel’ design developed in conjunction with Northumbria University Architecture Department. The design reflects the site’s history which was the home to the revolutionary water-powered iron works established by Sir Ambrose Crowley in the 1690s.
Cllr Malcolm Brain, Cabinet Member for Transport & Environment on Gateshead Council, said: “This is great news and takes the heritage centre one step closer to being delivered. I am delighted that the centre will be built in Winlaton Mill as the industrial history of the area is little known and needs to be told. It is fascinating that rural Gateshead was at the very forefront of the production of marine ironmongery for the shipbuilding industry of the 18th century.”
In addition to the £656,000 support for the Heritage Lottery Fund grant, a further £450,000 has been committed from the Rural Growth Network programme Strategic Economic Infrastructure Fund (SEIF) using funds from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Growth Deal – Local Growth Fund. Both SEIF and HLF funds are subject to second round assessment in 2017 before the funding is hopefully fully signed off next July.