The Duchess of Northumberland joined Northumberland National Park Authority to celebrate an important stage in the construction of The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre at Once Brewed.
Supported by a £7.8m investment from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), The Sill is a flagship project of national significance for Northumberland National Park and the region. Construction is on schedule for completion next April and The Sill will open to the public in June 2017.
The all-weather facility promises to be much more than simply a visitor destination. The Sill will provide a gateway from which extensive learning and research activities will be available and is set to become a leading education facility for landscape, conservation, countryside management, leisure, and tourism skills.
The Duchess marked the completion of the core structure in a special Topping Off ceremony and took a tour of the site to see progress on what is set to become a new iconic building for the North East. She was joined by 93 year-old Jack Hope from Wooler, the National Park’s original Warden who clocked up a staggering 66 years’ service and pupils from nearby Henshaw Primary School.
Councillor Glen Sanderson, Chair of Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “Years of planning and hard work by the National Park Authority, our partners and our contractor, have enabled us to reach this significant milestone for The Sill.
“We are incredibly proud and excited to be entering the final stages of construction and thrilled to welcome the Duchess to share this significant moment with us.
“One of the National Park Authority’s key aims is to encourage more visitors and make a positive, sustainable contribution to the area.
“A major purpose of The Sill is to enable the landscapes of Northumberland National Park and surrounding Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to be opened up to even more people, including children, families, older people, disabled people and those who are less confident at exploring natural places.
“The Sill promises to provide a 21st century platform for us to work closely with our partners locally and across the wider region to attract more people to the county, enable local enterprise to thrive and create more jobs by capitalising on growing tourism opportunities.”
The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre is expected to attract over 100,000 visitors per year and deliver substantial economic benefits within the Park and beyond by contributing an estimated £2.5 million per annum to the North East economy.
The project will also provide significant support to the rural economy by creating new employment and opportunities for skills development and training, along with a year-round activity, education and events programme that will deliver 30,000 activity days throughout the Park.
The building has fully-serviced office facilities for more than 20 local start-up businesses related to rural and outdoor pursuits and an extensive café which will offer fine fayre from food producers across the county. There is also a new, world-class YHA Youth Hostel on site with approximately 90 beds to provide people with a modern, high-quality visitor experience.
The Duchess of Northumberland, said: “The Sill is an exciting new development for the county and located in one of the most beautiful and unspoilt areas of the country. I’d like to congratulate Northumberland National Park Authority on their vision and determination to create a building which captures the unique qualities of the National Park and will re-engage people with the landscape, nature and the great outdoors.
“The Sill also heralds a once in a lifetime opportunity to shine a national spotlight on the vital importance of landscape to our health, wealth and well-being. The activity and engagement programme promises to stimulate and nurture the next generation of landscape enthusiasts, open up access to the countryside for everyone and ensure that these important wild places – and the communities within them – continue to thrive.”
Caroline White, YHA’s Chief Executive, said: “We can’t wait to start welcoming guests to The Sill. It is going to be such a fantastic place for people to stay, learn and enjoy.”
A recent tourism report commissioned by the National Park Authority shows Northumberland National Park currently attracts 1.76m visitors to the area per year, of which 1.41m are day visitors and 350,000 stay overnight. They contribute £76.44m to the rural economy and support 1,128 jobs in the Park. This performance outshone the original target set by the National Park Authority to grow tourism revenue from visitors to £75.8m in 2015.
Progress at The Sill and increasing visitor numbers provide more cause for celebration in what has already been a landmark year for Northumberland National Park, which also celebrated its 60th anniversary in April, and won the public vote for the prestigious accolade of ‘National Park of the Year’ in the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards 2015/16.