Ambitious plans for a £17.7-million history centre for County Durham may get the go-ahead at a Durham County Council cabinet meeting next week.
The proposed centre would be housed in Mount Oswald Manor, a historic grade-II-listed building in Durham City.
The centre would bring together heritage and archive services, and would include collections of local, national and international importance. There would be educational facilities, activities, exhibition programmes and digital access to the centre’s collections.
A public consultation last year showed that 83% of respondents were in favour of the proposed centre.
Respondents wanted the centre to feature multi-media access to the collections, regular talks, and behind-the-scenes tours. Respondents were especially keen to see the Durham Light Infantry collection housed in the new centre.
In addition to Durham’s county archives – which are accessed more than one million times a year – the centre would be home to historic registration records, environmental and archaeological records, and local studies collections.
The history centre would also include the Durham Light Infantry collection, which is currently scattered over a number of sites.
Durham Registry Office would also be relocated from its current home at Aykley Heads to Mount Oswald Manor, with the historic house and its surroundings offering enhanced facilities for weddings and civil ceremonies.
Mount Oswald Manor would be restored and refurbished to make it suitable for its new role. If councillors decide to approve the project, they will also be asked to agree to further consultations with the public as the scheme progresses.
Last year, Durham County Council made a bid to obtain part of the funding for the project from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), but unfortunately the bid was rejected due to a very high number of applications.
The council, however, decided to press ahead with the scheme, proposing to meet the core capital costs itself. Though the council recognise this will place a strain upon an already tight budget, it feels this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to preserve the county’s heritage for future generations.
The council says it will seek to manage costs carefully and will look for other sources of funding.
Durham County Council’s cabinet member for tourism, leisure, culture and rural issues, Cllr Ossie Johnson, 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 council’s cabinet will meet at the Glebe Centre, Murton, on Wednesday 16th January, to discuss the proposals.
(The featured image shows an engraving of a drawing of Mount Oswald Manor by John Preston Neale from 1818.)