Heritage centre plan is revived

AMBITIOUS plans to create a Morpeth heritage centre are being revived by a new community partnership.

The HeArt of Morpeth project has been set up by the new Morpeth Heritage Group, which brings together various organisations in a bid to improve the town’s cultural offer.

Morpeth Town Council, the Morpeth Antiquarian Society, the Friends of Morpeth Museum and the Greater Morpeth Development Trust are all involved in the group, which met for the first time last month.

And it was decided that securing a heritage centre, including events and exhibition space and office and storage facilities, must be a priority.

A HeArt (heritage and art) steering group has been formed to drive the initiative, and the first stage will be to seek funding to develop a full business plan.

Heritage Group Chairman Alison Byard said: “In the Neighbourhood Plan Issues and Options consultation, a huge majority of people who responded to that thought there should be a heritage centre in the town, and when the group met that was identified as a priority.

“The idea is that it would not just be a museum, but there could be space for music events, art events and exhibitions, anything to do with arts and heritage. We feel that it could be a cultural hub for the town.

“The Morpeth Antiquarians are in great need of working space. They are based in Newbiggin at the moment, but that is just a temporary base and they urgently need somewhere to work. The idea is that a heritage centre would incorporate that space.”

There have long been efforts to try to secure a permanent arts and cultural centre in the town, and a feasibility study into various options for the Antiquarians’ museum collection has previously been carried out.

The collection was on display at Morpeth Chantry from 1965 to 1997, but was put into storage when the building became a craft centre.

Coun Byard said: “We realise that this project will be very difficult, particularly in these economic times, and it has been looked at before, but it might now be worth looking at it again.

“We know it is not going to be easy, but there is great support for it and people are agreed that Morpeth needs a heritage centre.”

The heritage group has been formed as an umbrella organisation to help partners collaborate. Members will remain independent, but will accept direction from the larger group and work within an agreed co-ordinated programme.

Coun Byard said: “Morpeth is an historic town with many attractions, but we would like to improve our offer and attract more visitors.

“A lot of the groups have an ageing membership so we would also like to bring heritage to young people and the schools and get a younger generation involved.

“It was felt that we needed more connectivity between the various heritage groups so everyone has agreed to work together. The members will not lose their independence, but will take some direction from the group and share resources.”

Churches and other small organisations, such as Morpeth Clocktower Bellringers, could be invited to join as associated members.

Kim Bibby-Wilson, who is a member of Morpeth Antiquarian Society, the Friends Of Morpeth Museum and the Greater Morpeth Development Trust Heritage Group, as well as Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering Chairman, has welcomed the initiative.

She said: “This is a good step forward to get everybody involved and to be aware of the possibilities.

“One of the things the Friends Of Morpeth Museum is doing is arranging visits to different heritage resources in the region to see how they do things and how they got their funding. We will be doing that through the course of the year.

“There is a crying need to get Morpeth’s heritage resources back into the town and accessible to the public. If it can be done in conjunction with a wider multi-use facility then so much the better.”