New Northumberland visitor centre ‘would create more than 150 jobs’

Site of the current National Park Centre and Youth Hostel at Once Brewed, Northumberland.
Site of the current National Park Centre and Youth Hostel at Once Brewed, Northumberland.

An independent report has revealed that a proposed new Landscape Discovery Centre in Northumberland National Park has the potential to significantly boost the local economy with a substantial increase in tourism spend and job creation.

Findings from the Economic Impact Assessment report, published today and commissioned by Northumberland National Park Authority and YHA (England and Wales), estimates that ‘The Sill’ Landscape Discovery Centre has the potential to attract up to 120,000 new visitors annually when it opens in 2016 and create up to 156 new jobs in 2016/17, rising to 173 per annum by 2021/22.

It is predicted that The Sill could contribute a total of £3.35million to the local economy in its first year, rising to £3.68million per annum by 2021/22.

The Sill will replace the existing 1960s visitor centre and Youth Hostel at Once Brewed in the central section of the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site, with an emblematic building aimed at transforming and inspiring how people engage with, experience and learn about landscapes and conservation across Northumberland National Park.

During the building phase, which is planned between 2014 and 2016, the capital project investment of £8.88million to fund the development and construction of the facility will support the equivalent of more than 100 jobs in the region, with £4.8million contributed to the Northumberland and wider regional economy.

And local businesses and attractions are set to benefit from the new development.

By showcasing local producers and service providers in the planned cafe, shop and exhibition space, hosting farmers’ markets and developing themed itineraries for visitors to explore the wider Northumberland area and region, the report also predicts the positive impact of The Sill on enterprise in the local area.

As a result of visitor demand created by The Sill, the report predicts the creation of 18 new businesses or start ups from 2016, with existing businesses in the region benefiting from the influx of tourists to the area and the opportunity to sell and showcase their produce and services.

John Riddle, Chairman of Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “The Sill is a project of both national and international significance and the Economic Impact Assessment report confirms what our detailed strategic planning predicted in terms of the positive outcomes for the local and regional economy.

“The Sill will offer a unique visitor experience, and our aim is to attract not only day visitors but those wishing to stay and explore the region for longer periods of time. The local community is at the heart of this project and working in partnership with local people and businesses, The Sill will act as a hub for people to go out and explore Northumberland’s stunning landscapes including local attractions, retail and hospitality services. It also hopes to sell local products and services, which has the potential to significantly enhance the region’s economy.”

As well as the strong impact of The Sill on the North East’s economy, the report highlights a range of additional benefits the project will bring including the potential for extensive learning and participation activities, supporting around 3,500 learners on residential trips and 1,300 learners on educational day trips. The 86 bed onsite Youth Hostel is set to support these project aims.

The project also presents the opportunity for vocational training in traditional skills, which also has the potential to benefit the local economy in the longer term with increased productivity, increases in wages and the opportunity for new rural business start ups. Learners will have the chance to discover and be trained up in the techniques that have shaped the unique landscape of Northumberland National Park, including dry stone walling and hedge laying, with a number of programmes being developed as the project progresses.

The iconic building will be designed to be environmentally sustainable with the planned use of local building materials and onsite installation of renewable, energy generating equipment. In order to raise awareness of conservation issues and the environment, The Sill project also plans to offer a wide variety of conservation events and volunteering opportunities during all phases of development.

Director of Property at YHA, Jake Chalmers, said: “We are thrilled at the opportunities presented by The Sill. The Discovery Centre and onsite YHA Youth Hostel will offer a great educational asset and resource for the region and further afield, inspiring current and future generations to celebrate and conserve the stunning natural landscape of Northumberland National Park and beyond. In addition to the benefits to the local economy, the predicted impact on the environment, recreation, the community and volunteer programmes gives us great cause for celebration.”

Stuart Evans, Project Director for Northumberland National Park, explained: “We have spent three years downsizing our organisation and we are now able to operate on much reduced government funding. This is a great time to invest as our stable budget platform enables the National Park Authority to make a significant physical and financial investment by modernising this essential infrastructure in the popular Hadrian’s Wall part of the Northumberland National Park. Working with partners such as the YHA, The National Trust and private businesses we are confident this new infrastructure will provide a long-term income stream from a one-off capital investment – a step change benefit for the regional economy and the nation’s enjoyment and discovery of the National Park’s beautiful landscape.”

Lucy Howard, from Longsyke Farm, located close to the current Once Brewed site, explained some of the benefits The Sill presents to her business: “The Sill will give the local economy the boost that is needed by bringing in additional visitors to the National Park, not only during the peak seasons but at all times of the year. As a business operating in this area, we are very excited by the opportunities presented by The Sill.

“As well as our holiday cottage business, we also run a working farm and for us, any project that raises awareness of the rural environment, is a very positive thing. Lots of people have a relatively low awareness of agriculture and with the potential to open up our farm to current and new visitors and possibly even sell our local produce at The Sill’s new site, we believe it will benefit us by acting as a shop window for all that we have to offer. It’s my hope that the Sill will give rural businesses in this area the chance to showcase the things that make them unique, giving visitors the opportunity to understand our stunning landscape while raising awareness of where their food comes from.”

The development phase of the project has been made possible through funding from The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Over the next 10 months Northumberland National Park will undertake extensive consultation with the local community and businesses, gaining their views on the plans and feeding into the design and build process as well as the types of activities they would like to see the facility host, before a final design solution is submitted in a second round bid to the HLF in December 2013.

Northumberland National Park Authority and the YHA are seeking to secure an additional £2.5million in funding for the full project costs and to make their vision for The Sill a reality, the project needs your support. You can support The Sill by volunteering, attending one of the project’s consultation events or making a donation towards the £2.5million target.

The Economic Impact Assessment report was prepared by New Skills Consulting and The KSA Partnership.

For more information about The Sill, visit www.thesill.org.uk , find The Sill on Facebook or follow The Sill on Twitter @thesillproject