Berwick barracks looking to the future

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Two firms have been appointed to carry out studies into the feasibility of developing a Heritage Hub in Berwick’s 18th century barracks.

Heritage and culture specialists Jura Consulting will study the business case for the hub as a tourist attraction.

The firm will consider the activities that could be based there – including the Berwick Record Office, Archive and Museum – and the opportunities for making the hub commercially viable.

Historic building consultants Spence & Dower will report on the physical and technical feasibility of accommodating the hub’s different elements in the Berwick Barracks complex.

Any changes to the buildings would have to be approved by English Heritage, which manages the site.

The cost of the work is being met by a grant from the government’s Coastal Revival Fund (CRF).

“The timetable set by the CRF is very tight,” says Sir Philip Mawer, who chairs the steering group for the Heritage Hub project. “All the work has to be completed by the end of March.

“Despite the limited time available, we were fortunate in being able to attract a range of strong candidates for the work.

“A total of seven firms applied, some proposing to do one of the studies and others to do both.

“Two firms were clearly ahead of the others and the decision to award the contracts to them was unanimous.”

The tenders were evaluated by a panel including representatives of Berwick Town Council, Berwick Archive and Museum Action Group, English Heritage, Berwick Community Trust, the Woodhorn Trust (which manages the Berwick Archive and Berwick Museum) and Northumberland County Council (which funds the Archive and Museum and is administering the CRF grant).

The studies are being carried out thanks to a £48,000 grant awarded to the Berwick Barracks Reawakening Project. It successfully applied to the £3 million CRF, a Government scheme which aims to preserve the UK’s coastal heritage.

The fund was three times oversubscribed, with 222 bids from all round the country, seeking a total of £9 million.

The barracks action group is well aware that there have been many false dawns in the past.

Ideas which have failed to get off the ground include a varsity hotel and holiday lets.

However, it is widely acknowledged that the barracks, built to the design of the distinguished architect Nicholas Hawksmoor and among the first barracks in England to be purpose built, has huge untapped potential.

The current effort was sparked in the wake of Northumberland County Council’s decision to consolidate its buildings portfolio which led to the closure of the archives at Wallace Green and their temporary relocation to the Workspace and into storage.

The action group was therefore formed to try and find a long-term solution for the archive and museum.

Also successful to the CRF was the Accessing Aidan project in Bamburgh, which was awarded £26,000 to reopen and revive the crypt at St Aidan’s Church as an ossuary and visitor centre.

The proposed Heritage Hub at Berwick Barracks could include:

- A revitalised Berwick Museum and Art Gallery, with expanded scope to represent the history of North Northumberland and the Eastern Borders

- Berwick’s unique Archive and Record Office, providing services to academics, genealogists and the public – not only in the local community but nationally and internationally

- The regimental museum of the KOSB (now the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland)

- Additional historic displays – for example, interest has been expressed by the Wilson’s Tales Project, which is developing a museum focused on Wilson’s Tales of the Borders

- Space for arts events and living history re-enactments

- Ancillary activities to generate revenue and provide the services expected by visitors – including a shop and quality café

- Complementary activities that underwrite the long-term financial viability of the site: these might include visitor accommodation, conference and hospitality facilities, educational facilities and activities, retail space and/or workspace for small businesses.