North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) members had an update on the multi-million pound investment plans for Northumberland National Park at the Northumberland AGM at Matfen Hall.
Guest speaker at the event was Sarah Glynn, Manager, The Sill, the UK’s first dedicated landscape discovery centre under construction in the Hadrian’s Wall area.
Before she outlined the ambitious project, there was the formal business of the AGM where John McCabe, Managing Director, Round Table Solutions, was re-elected Chair. He reviewed the year and welcomed the progress on key issues such as the dualling of the A1 and the Lynemouth Power Station sale which helps secure 130 jobs.
For the year ahead he told the audience of 90 Northumberland businesspeople the main issues will be devolution with the potential to elect a Mayor and the Northern Powerhouse where he said there was ‘more heat than light’ in his view.
Sarah Glynn’s overview of the ambitious Sill project began with a brief reminder of the National Parks’ history which began in the late 19th century as a result of a growing public desire to explore landscapes previously the domain of landowners.
The statistics for Northumberland’s National Park, one of 15 nationally, include it being the least populated in the country with around 2,000 people and covering 405 square miles. It has 1,100 paths for leisure pursuits, over 200 listed buildings and 425 ancient monuments as well as three nature reserves.
With a keen eye on the future Sarah said: “The Sill is being created to re-imagine the original purpose of our national park and transform people’s experience of landscape, heritage and culture when they visit it. We want visitors to be inspired by what they see and as a result help conserve the park for future generations.”
The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre will be the result of an almost £15m investment, the largest project by the National Parks Authority. It will include an 86 bed youth hostel, retail opportunities and café.
Benefits to the local Northumberland economy include the creation of 120 jobs and an anticipated £5m boost from tourism. There are also plans to have research and learning facilities at the centre with education opportunities for all levels of students.
Sarah said: “We also aim to create training opportunities in traditional and heritage skills as well as providing stimulating events and activities. In Northumberland National Park, in my view, we have the country’s best landscape places for people to enjoy activities from dark sky photography to bushcraft. The Sill will encourage everyone to learn more about the unique countryside and we plan to have delivered around 30,000 activities by 2020.”
The Sill will open its doors in Summer 2017.
Sarah thanked the organisations and individuals who had supported the project so far including the Heritage Lottery Fund, the North East LEP and the Gillian Dickinson Trust and explained she is actively looking for more partnerships across all sectors.
Further information is available on www.thesill.org.uk