The community came together this week, for the official unveiling of the final designs for The Sill, Northumberland's proposed £11.2m national Landscape Discovery Centre.
After months of informative public consultation and refinement led by partners Northumberland National Park Authority and YHA (England and Wales), the stunning photo-realistic designs and animated fly-through footage featuring a tour of the new building, were launched at a special unveiling hosted at Bardon Mill Village Hall close to the current National Park centre at Once Brewed. Marking a key milestone for the project, the designs will now be taken into the planning stages of the development, with an outcome predicted by summer 2014. And YHA Chief Executive Caroline White, was also in the region to speak about the significant benefits of the project to young people.
The designs created by award-winning architects Jane Darbyshire and David Kendall, have been refined down to the final detail demonstrating materials to be utilised in the construction phase from its dry stone walling to innovative 'whin sill' roof, reflecting the natural habitat of Northumberland National Park – a design concept that developed from public consultation and feedback on initial design ideas. The building is set to be at the forefront of sustainable design with local woodchip heating, photovoltaic canopies and solar thermal water heating. After extensive public input which highlighted the importance of a building that sits sympathetically in the landscape, the new designs are reflective of the concept 'inspired by the landscape and of the landscape.' With some 1,700 people in total inputting their ideas via a series of open consultation events, one-to-one meetings, focus groups and activity sessions, the project team is proud to announce a concept which the whole community and a wide partnership of interest has been invited to help shape.
Since the last consultation event in autumn 2013, an innovative form of interpretation design created by Edinburgh based design consultants Bright 3D, has also been progressed, with an overarching theme 'hidden in plain view' shaping plans for the exhibition design space and exploring different aspects of the environment. The centre will house state of the art education facilities, superfast broadband, five external activity areas, serviced office accommodation for outdoor activity businesses, areas for retail of local products and a local produce cafe.
The launch venue – Bardon Mill Village Hall – which has synergies with the project as the UK's only earth-sheltered village hall, features its own 'green roof', a key component of The Sill designs, which boast a fully accessible 'whin sill' centrepiece, created out of the unique and rare whin sill vegetation, offering awe-inspiring views of the Northumbrian countryside and the first of its kind for the UK. If plans are approved and funding for the project successfully achieved, The Sill's vision is to create a hub which will open up the landscape of the whole of Northumberland National Park and offer substantial economic benefits to the region, with a £3.35m contribution predicted in its first year alone, and an exciting 'shop window' for the rural businesses in and around the Park.
Tony Gates is the Chief Executive of Northumberland National Park Authority. Speaking about this milestone for the project, he said; "I am delighted to announce the final designs for The Sill which will now be taken into the planning stages of the project. In just a short space of time, we have consulted people at 130 meetings and our design team from architects Jane Darbyshire and David Kendall have created concepts which are both sympathetic to the environment and inspiring in their vision.
"Over the course of this, the development phase of the project, which has been backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, we have invited members of the public to contribute to the design process, and their feedback and ideas have helped to shape the design you see before you today."
John Riddle, Chairman of Northumberland National Park Authority, said: "The benefits to the community and region as a whole are far-reaching and extensive with the project set to offer a step-change benefit for the rural economy creating up to 156 jobs in its first year alone. The Sill is an ambitious project which will open up the Northumbrian landscape, a hidden gem, to new audiences on a national and international level. Our aim is to create a building and educational outreach programme which will transform how people experience, enjoy, understand and care for the landscape of the future. It will boost tourism spend whilst giving local businesses across the Park the chance to showcase what makes them unique. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and it needs the support and backing of the North East in order to make it a reality. As we take this exciting step forward, we hope everyone can join us on our journey to create the UK's first Landscape Discovery Centre of its kind."
Alison Thornton-Sykes, Principal Architect at Jane Darbyshire and David Kendall, said: "The Sill will characterise the distinctiveness of Northumberland National Park by reflecting the landscape of Northumberland National Park – our brief has always been to design a building 'inspired by the landscape and of the landscape' – this is something we've worked hard to achieve with input from Glen Kemp Landscape Architects and Cundall as Planning Consultants and feel that the balance has been carefully struck. We have been working alongside interpretation designers Bright 3D, who have been developing the designs for the exhibition space and interpretation which we are also excited to see making significant progress.
"Iconic projects like The Sill don't come around very often and we are so excited to be a part of this process; revealing the final designs after so many months of hard work and an extensive consultation is a very special moment for the team at JDDK."
The development phase of the project has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) who attended the event this week.
Named recently by Women 1st as one of the top 100 most influential women in tourism, YHA Chief Executive, Caroline White, was also in the region for the design launch event, to highlight the benefits of the project in line with the YHA mission – to inspire all, especially young people, to broaden their horizons gaining knowledge and independence through new experiences of adventure and discovery. She said; "YHA offers unique experiences in fantastic locations, with residential visits giving young people the opportunity to step outside the classroom into a new adventure and a world of possibilities. This is an exciting day for YHA and our partners Northumberland National Park Authority; here we have a design that showcases modern youth hostel facilities that will transform learning experiences for our future generations.
"The Sill will open people's eyes to new career opportunities, teach them to conserve the landscape and offer rural training opportunities so important in the preservation of traditional skills. Without the Sill development, YHA Once Brewed will likely close in just a few years. We hope everyone will get behind the project to ensure this doesn't happen and our young people can enjoy wonderful outdoor experiences for many years to come."
At the event, guests were treated to a musical introduction by accordion player Henry Robson, showcasing the heritage of the Hadrian's Wall area and a taster of the upcoming composition 'Sensing the Park' by acclaimed folk musician Shona Mooney, was also played. Presentations from the project and design team took place throughout the evening and JDDK work placement student Jamie Nicholson, was invited to share his experiences of the project with the audience. A public drop-in day was also hosted the following day.
Anyone interested in supporting The Sill can do so by volunteering, attending one of the project's consultation events, making a donation towards the £3.7million target or contributing toward the development of The Sill's activity programme. For more information about The Sill, find The Sill on Facebook or follow The Sill on Twitter @thesillproject