Plans for a new £17.7m history and heritage centre set for approval

Plans to create a new history centre bringing together archive and heritage services for County Durham could be given the green light next week.

Members of Durham County Council’s Cabinet will be asked to agree the ambitious £17.7 million project when they meet on Wednesday, January 16.

The proposed Durham History Centre would see the Grade II listed Mount Oswald Manor restored and refurbished to provide a multi-use archive venue where visitors would be able to explore nationally and internationally significant collections.

Last year, the council submitted a bid for funding to cover part of the cost of the project to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) but despite receiving positive feedback was unsuccessful due to the very high number of applications.

Recognising the widespread public support for the scheme, it is now looking to go ahead by meeting the core capital costs itself. Although this places extra strain on limited budgets, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to preserve the county’s heritage for future generations.

The council will closely manage costs and seek funding from other sources to support an enhanced service offer, including digital access to local history collections, education facilities, activity and exhibition programmes.

Cllr Ossie Johnson, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for tourism, culture, leisure and rural affairs, said: “Although our plans were positively received by the HLF, unfortunately, due to the sheer number of applications for funding they received, our bid was unsuccessful.

“Obviously, we were disappointed but we recognise the importance of this major project to the whole of the county so we are extremely keen to ensure that it still goes ahead which is why we are seeking to fund the core capital costs ourselves.

“County Durham has a distinct identity and its communities have a deep sense of their history and heritage. This project offers us an unrivalled opportunity to preserve, promote and celebrate that wide and varied history.

The project has received significant support from the public, with a consultation last year receiving more than 600 responses – 83 per cent of which were in favour of the proposal.

Respondents were keen to see the centre offering exhibitions, multi-media access to collections, talks and behind the scenes tours. There was also particularly strong support for the inclusion of the Durham Light Infantry/military collection.

If councillors grant approval for the project, they will also be asked to agree to further consultation with the public.

In addition to the county’s archives, which are currently accessed more than one million times a year, the centre would house historic registration records, environment and archaeology records, local studies collections as well as the Durham Light Infantry Collection.

The project would also see the relocation from Aykley Heads of Durham Register Office, offering significantly enhanced facilities for weddings and civil ceremonies in the historic surroundings of the manor house.

Cabinet meets at the Glebe Centre, Murton, on Wednesday, 16 January.

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