Works have started on the £2.2million project to give Morpeth Railway Station a new lease of life.
As well as repairing, restoring and re-developing parts of the building, the team on site will convert empty rooms in the main station trackside section into a bespoke enterprise centre that will provide accommodation for up to seven small businesses.
Led by Greater Morpeth Development Trust (GMDT), which has been diligently working for the past six years to bring everything together, a partnership of the National Lottery, Northumberland County Council, North East Rural Growth Network, the Railway Heritage Trust and track and train operators Network Rail and Arriva Rail North is funding the scheme.
It is expected that the works will be completed in just under 12 months at the station – originally built for the Newcastle & Berwick Railway Company and designed and opened in 1846 by Benjamin Green, one of the great pioneering railway architects of his day.
GMDT says construction work will be carried out with as little disruption as possible for travellers.
Chairman Doug Phillips said: “The work we will be doing will not only preserve what is such an historic link with the development of the railway network across Britain in the Victorian era, but will also significantly improve travel conditions for today’s passengers, as well as give the station a viable future through the creation of a business enterprise centre in such a unique location.”
As part of the improvements, a cafeteria and modern toilets will be provided and the ornate portico will be restored as a feature entrance to the station.
A number of large chimney stacks, which helped give the station its unique character, will also be restored.
Ivor Crowther, head of Heritage Lottery Fund North East that has put nearly £800,000 of lottery funding into the project, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, Morpeth Railway Station is set to become a vastly improved gateway into Northumberland.
“As well as securing the future of the building’s heritage, currently unused space will be brought back into use for visitors, business start-ups and the community. This is an exciting project and it is fantastic to see work begin at the site.”
Mr Phillips said there had been times over the past two or three years when it seemed the scheme might never reach fruition.
He added: “At the outset, we had to convince the owners and operators of the station that a small community development trust such as ours could bring the necessary funding partners together to make the scheme happen.
“However, our track record of achievements, which includes project managing the sympathetic transformation of the 300-year-old Morpeth Town Hall into a modern civic building, gave our funding partners the confidence that we are capable of successfully delivering a multi-million pound project such as this one.
“Our partners all bought into our vision to restore the station to its former glory, as well as making it fit-for-purpose for 21st Century travellers, and they continued to back the scheme even when it sometimes looked as if it might be derailed.”
The front of the building – where there was a handful of car parking spaces – has now been closed off and access to the platforms will be from the drop-off and pick-up points.
The ticket office, which is the only space in the main building still in use, will remain open until the turn of the year when it will be moved into a temporary building until the new one is ready.
Coun Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “We are delighted that work on this flagship project is now getting under way.
“Morpeth Railway Station is one of the gateways into the county and is of strategic importance both for rail users and businesses, and we are confident it will also become a thriving space for small businesses to flourish.”
Contractor STP Construction of Rowlands Gill has moved onto the site to work with the trust and architects Curtis Architecture and Napper Architects, which designed the station improvements.
David Lodge, GMDT chief executive, said: “Morpeth Railway Station is the gateway not just to the town, but for many visitors to Northumberland, and the re-development will bring aesthetic and well as economic benefits through the provision of quality business workspace in a unique setting.
“These are exciting times for a small community development trust such as ours and it has taken a huge amount of team effort and partnership working to reach the point we are now at.
“This project will be our biggest to date and will take the level of funding GMDT has brought into Morpeth to more than £10million over the past decade.”
Andy Savage, executive director of the Railway Heritage Trust, said: “The trust is delighted that GMDT has managed, despite all the problems along the way, to get to the stage of starting work at the station and we thank its team – along with all the funders – for their hard work, efforts and support.
“This is the first major project that we have worked on with National Lottery funding and we are looking forward to seeing the restored building back in use again in the not-too-distant future.”