High hopes for barracks heritage hub

Berwick Barracks could be developed into an attraction drawing upwards of 60,000 visitors a year, according to a new study.

Thursday, 24th March 2016, 7:05 am
Plans for Berwick Barracks
Plans for Berwick Barracks

At present the site, managed by English Heritage, attracts only around 10,000 visitors a year.

But heritage and culture specialists Jura Consultants, who conducted the feasibility study, believe that developing a heritage hub on the site could transform its fortunes.

The scheme could cost in the region of £15 million and, due to the large sums involved, would probably be phased.

But it won’t happen overnight, cautions Sir Philip Mawer – chairman of the Berwick Archive and Museum Action Group (BAMAG), which commissioned the Jura feasibility study jointly with Berwick Town Council.

“Turning the vision into reality will take a great deal of both time and money. We’re going to have to raise many millions of pounds, so it will be quite a while before we can be confident that we can make it happen.”

The proposed project would involve bringing the Berwick Record Office and Archive onto the site and integrating and upgrading the three museums and two art galleries currently based in the barracks.

New facilities would include a café, an enlarged shop and education facilities. There could also be studio and retail space for artists and artisans, new spaces for community use, and visitor accommodation for holiday lets.

The current museum collections – Berwick Museum and Art Gallery, the regimental museum of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, and English Heritage’s own display, would be reinterpreted and expanded to tell the dramatic and often bloody story of North Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

There would be improved display space for the internationally recognised Gymnasium Gallery and room for the town’s Art Gallery to bring more of its precious Burrell Collection out of storage and onto public display.

As well as the permanent displays, there would be a new emphasis on arts events, living history re-enactments, festivals and other activities that bring life and animation to the Barracks square.

Jura Consultants believes that a Heritage Hub along these lines would be feasible, and English Heritage has welcomed the proposals.

“Berwick Barracks has been an under-used asset for many years,” says English Heritage’s Alex Sydney, who has been closely involved in taking a fresh look at the Barracks.

“Despite our limited resources, we would like to improve what the site can offer to visitors.

“If all the partners in this initiative can work together effectively, we have a real opportunity to create a flagship visitor attraction for the town.”

“The next step is for all the partners to assess the opportunity detailed in our report and consider how they can work together to take it forward,” says Jura MD Paul Jardine, who led the feasibility study.

“After that, it would take two to three years to put the funding together. So we’re talking about four to five years before the complete Heritage Hub would open its doors.”

The public will have a chance to see what the Heritage Hub might look like on Saturday, April 16, at the closing event of the Berwick 900 celebrations.

There will be a special Barracks display at the Family History Day in the town hall from 10am until 4pm, and the consulting team will give a presentation at 12pm.

The study was undertaken in two closely co-ordinated parts: a business case study by Jura Consultants, and a study by conservation architects Spence & Dower to determine whether the required facilities could be accommodated on the site.

The feasibility study was funded by a £48,000 grant from the Government’s Coastal Revival Fund.