A new £1.5m visitor attraction is now open in the Derwent Valley after the Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre and cafe shrub was officially opened yesterday (Monday 24 September) in Winlaton Mill, Gateshead.

The Heritage Centre and café will be a community hub as well as a tourist attraction in the Derwent Valley. It was opened by Ian Brown, Chair of Groundwork, Jill Green, Mayor of Gateshead and John Rundle from Land of Oak & Iron.

Located in Winlaton Mill, in the heart of Ambrose Crowley’s industrial empire, and both the Heritage Centre and cafe shrub are accessible via the Derwent Walk, Red Kite Trail and the Coast to Coast Cycle way, as well as the main traffic route through the Derwent Valley.

The centre provides a unique interpretation of the fascinating local heritage, heritage skills training for volunteers and has business units to support creative businesses in the area. In addition, the site is also home to a small café and gift shop, café shrub.

café shrub specialises in offering local produce in both the café and gift shop. Visitors can immerse themselves in the heritage of the area with its use of reclaimed wood and exposed iron beams in its design. café shrub offers a freshly cooked seasonal menu sourced from local suppliers where possible. It is a hub for the local community as well as a place where visitors can fuel up before or relax after an exciting day exploring all that the area has to offer.

“We are very proud of our new Heritage Centre in the Land of Oak & Iron,” said John Rundle, chair, Land of Oak & Iron, “It and café shrub are an important part of the overall Land of Oak & Iron project through which we are creating tourism, regeneration and employment opportunities that will deliver local economic benefits in the Derwent Valley.

“The new building will bring the history and heritage of the Land of Oak & Iron to life, create a vibrant hub for the local community as well as people passing by, as well as provide an exciting new venture for visitors to enjoy long into the future – it’s about sustainability.”

Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) is supporting the project with a £697,700 grant.

Ivor Crowther, Head of HLF North East, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, we’re delighted to support this project to celebrate the incredible story of the Derwent Valley, conserve its heritage and create a passionate and skilled partnership between organisations and the local community to ensure a bright future for this historic landscape. The opening of the visitor centre is a very exciting milestone for the project and is set to attract more visitors to share in the area’s heritage.”

The building concept was designed by Matthew Glover, an architecture student at Northumbria University, to represent a water wheel like those which powered the largest ironworks in Europe, in a nod to the heritage that has since shaped the land. Gateshead Council’s design team and Groundwork transformed Matthew’s concept into a workable design to bring to life.

Kate Culverhouse, Chief Executive of Groundwork North East & Cumbria, said: “The Centre is a fantastic addition to the heritage and cultural offering that already exists in the Derwent Valley in and is a fantastic way to celebrate this part of the North East. We hope the Heritage Centre will be a fantastic resource for the community as well as attract new people to visit the area boosting the local economy.”

Speaking on behalf of Gateshead Council, Cllr John McElroy, said: “I am delighted to see the Heritage Centre open and it is a credit to all of the partners involved. It will attract many visitors to this beautiful part of Gateshead where they can learn about the little-known history and enjoy the stunning country park.

“We’re committed to making Gateshead a place where everyone thrives and I am pleased that the jobs created have been filled by local people and that Gateshead businesses are supplying the café.”

Land of Oak & Iron, the Heritage Centre and café shrub is hosted by Groundwork NE & Cumbria and supported by National Lottery players through HLF. The Centre has been funded by the Rural Growth Network to create a regionally strategic tourism facility that is profit making, creates direct and indirect jobs and benefits the local economy.