Study begins for arts and heritage centre

Hopes of creating an arts, culture and heritage centre in Morpeth are moving a step closer to fruition as a new study begins.

A specialist consultant is due to be appointed later this month to explore a range of options for such a facility, which could also be home to a town museum.

The centre could include a theatre with capacity for 250 people, which would host local and visiting drama groups and Morpeth community cinema, work space, meeting, conference and lecture rooms, and a cafe, bar and shop selling appropriate merchandise for the venue that could also provide an income stream.

There could also be space for exhibitions.

The project, which has been branded HeART of Morpeth, is being facilitated by the Greater Morpeth Development Trust (GMDT), with funding from Morpeth Town Council, the Friends of Morpeth Museum and the Queen’s Hall in Hexham.

GMDT Arts and Cultural Director Frank Rescigno said: “It has long been recognised that Morpeth lacks a suitable arts and culture venue in the same way as Hexham has the Queen’s Hall, Alnwick has The Playhouse and Berwick has The Maltings.

“These three excellent venues provide so much scope for regular entertainment on people’s doorsteps, featuring both professional and home-grown talent, and we think the time is right to see whether the facilities they provide can be replicated in some way in Morpeth.”

He added: “The local Antiquarians and the Friends of Morpeth Museum are keen to see Morpeth have its own dedicated space where the town’s many treasures from its proud past can be permanently on show so part of the consultant’s brief will be to see whether such a facility could be successfully incorporated into any proposed cultural centre.”

The consultant will be expected to discuss the project with other centres and agencies, such as Woodhorn Museum, which is responsible for the Chantry Bagpipe Museum, Northumberland County Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England.

They will consider whether the project is feasible and financially sustainable.

“Within the next three to five years it would be wonderful to think that Morpeth was in the position to open a marvellous new facility that would not only be enjoyed and appreciated by local people, but would bring visitors into the town, as well as create some new jobs in an entirely fresh field of employment opportunities,” said Mr Rescigno.

“First, however, we have to carefully look at all the possibilities and then perhaps build up a strong business case for such a development to go ahead. If it did, just think what a fantastic asset it would be for Morpeth.”

Nearly two-thirds of people surveyed for the preparation of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan, which will be the blueprint for the town’s future development, said they would support the idea of such a centre, while various local organisations considered potential uses and possible sites for the facility in a workshop last year.