Kielder Observatory is delighted to announce that it has successfully raised over £200,000 to build a new state-of-the-art observatory, thanks to funding from the National Lottery and the Rural Development Programme for England: LEADER programme. The new facility is due to be opened in the summer of 2017 and will be built next to the existing award-winning facility in Northumberland International Dark Sky Park. Kielder Observatory, now in its ninth year, has established itself as the UK’s number one Dark Sky stargazing haven and visitors from across the world flock to marvel at the inky vistas of Kielder and to listen to the inspirational team of Astronomers, headed by Founder Director Gary Fildes.

The announcement follows confirmation of major grants of £89,700 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and £86,934 from the LEADER programme. The new building will substantially enhance the visitor and educational experience of the existing observatory and will be the next stage in realising the ambition to develop an astronomical village, which would be a first for the UK.

Total investment in the project is expected to be around £209,000 and work will start during the next few weeks to enable the new facilities to be operational by late summer.

The new observatory will be fully accessible and comprise a single story building housing a fully automated telescope with retractable roof, presentation room, kitchen and toilet facilities. In addition there will be external observation with fully accessible deck areas. The new observatory aims to open its doors to visitors in early Autumn.

Kielder Observatory currently welcomes over 23,000 visitors per year with the new facilities expecting to attract more educational and community groups from visiting schools, colleges and community groups from across the North East.

As Northumberland International Dark Sky Park celebrated its third anniversary in December, research shows that astro-tourism is developing into a significant contributor to the county’s visitor economy. Market research carried out after a Dark Skies autumn and winter marketing campaign, led by Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, found that 63% of respondents had visited the county between October 2015 and February 2016, compared to 9.5% the previous year. Earlier this year, satellite maps of England’s light pollution and dark skies released by the Campaign to Protect Rural England showed that Northumberland is the darkest national park with 96% of the area having pristine night skies.

Gary Fildes, Founder Director and Lead Astronomer of Kielder Observatory, said: “This new observatory will enable the science team to provide even more resources to the community who visit us. Our aim is to “Enthuse Educate and Inspire” all of our visitors and with the support of our partners across this wonderful region we will continue to excel.

Ivor Crowther, Head of HLF North East, said: “Kielder Observatory is a hugely valuable asset for the North East and continues to grow in popularity each year. We’re delighted that National Lottery players can support this project to expand the observatory and enable more people to witness and learn about the outstanding natural heritage of Northumberland.”

Terry Carroll, Chair of the Local Action Group of the LEADER programme, said: “We are delighted to have been able to support this latest project in the evolution of the Kielder Observatory. The Observatory already makes a massive contribution to rural tourism locally, particularly in the difficult winter months and the new facilities will surely build on this. The expertise and dedication of the staff and volunteers in engaging with and inspiring visitors and educational groups is exemplary.”