The Sill Celebrates 5th Birthday

The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre, located along Hadrian’s Wall UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northumberland National Park, celebrates its fifth birthday.

The award-winning, £14.8 million state of the art visitor centre has welcomed over half a million visitors since opening on 29 July 2017, including high profile guests including HRH Prince Charles who officially opened the centre.

Tony Gates, Chief Executive at Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “It’s been an incredible five years and I am immensely proud of how The Sill has become a destination from which people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy and experience the rich landscape of Northumberland.

“It was our vision to create a visitor experience which would excite and inspire people to ask big questions about landscape and encourage them to learn more about the fantastic natural and cultural heritage of Northumberland, and it has been a pleasure to see this vision come to life over the past five years.

“The Sill was an ambitious project, and it has been incredibly rewarding to see more and different people accessing and experiencing Northumberland National Park. Both the building and the engagement programme provide a breadth of opportunities for people to engage with nature and heritage regardless of their ability or previous knowledge, and we’re confident this will continue as we build on The Sill’s success so far.

“I would like to say a big ‘Thank You’ to staff at the Northumberland National Park Authority, to visitors, our partners and funders, who have helped us reach this milestone.”

National Landscape Discovery Centre

The Sill is the UK’s first dedicated National Landscape Discovery Centre and the result of a pioneering partnership between Northumberland National Park Authority, YHA (England and Wales), partly funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund through a £7.8 million grant made possible by National Lottery players. During The Sill’s first five years, it has contributed 67.5 FTE jobs and £2.2 million GVA per annum to the local economy.

Named after the nearby Great Whin Sill, in addition to the adjoining 86 bed YHA youth hostel, temporary and permanent exhibition spaces and the on-site café, The Sill features learning and events spaces, a gift shop packed with locally sourced gifts and producers as well as a world-first, fully accessible Whin Sill Grassland Roof.

Jean Davidson, Chair of Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “The Sill acts as the gateway to Northumberland National Park, and over the past five years it has evolved as a landscape learning experience continuing to engage with more and different people each day, and develop innovative, accessible exhibitions and learning experiences. It’s welcomed and influenced many individuals, schools, and groups, helping those who may otherwise face barriers to access landscape.

“During the past five years, we’ve seen a change in The Sill’s visitor demographic, and it’s great to see new audiences exploring the landscape. New partnerships have come to fruition too, where many have been keen to connect their targeted groups with nature for health and wellbeing, and in frequent cases to aid recovery from the pandemic. Northumberland National Park aspire to be a welcoming Park for all, and The Sill is helping us achieve this.

“It’s amazing to see how far The Sill has come as it reaches its fifth birthday, and I look forward to seeing how it’ll evolve over the next five years.”

The Sill has a diverse year-round engagement programme which embraces arts, culture and heritage, health and wellbeing, the natural and historic environment, climate change and heritage skills and crafts. The Sill’s learning programme for schools opens up educational opportunities for a wide range of ages and abilities, delivering sessions at The Sill, in schools and within the wider National Park. These programmes have enabled Northumberland National Park to open opportunities to engage with nature and beauty to a wide range of visitors, a priority in the government’s 25-year plan for the environment and the 2019 Review of Designated Landscapes led by Julian Glover and his team.

Engagement and learning programmes

The engagement and learning programmes have brought many successes, here are some stats from the past five years:

  • 61,237 people taking part in an activity or event
  • 768 educational visits, including 247 different schools visiting
  • 45,050 education participants
  • 7,040 people taking part in training
  • 2,821 total activities run

The shop at The Sill is an important element to not only visitors, but to local communities too. It provides an important route to market for local businesses to sell products, in fact, 80 per cent of the products on sale are produced in the region or inspired by Northumberland National Park’s landscape, therefore supporting the local economy and these businesses to grow. This echoes the role of the National Park to seek to foster the social and economic wellbeing of the local communities. The shop has reached a few milestones of its own since opening in 2017, selling: 35,686 postcards, 16,280 ice lollies, 6,188 cups of coffee, 2,781 maps, 1,597 pictures or prints and 1,572 ‘Walk the Wall’ t-shirts.

Other highlights include: hosting national touring exhibitions such as The Lost Words and Flow Country, curating in-house the award-winning digital landscapes exhibition and the current Lost Spells: Listening to a Landscape of Voices exhibition and programme of events, successful food and drink and Christmas fairs, offering access to a variety of businesses in the region for meetings, training days, team building days and product launches, and even hosting the American ‘Wheel of Fortune’ where the learning rooms were turned into dressing rooms for two of America’s most-loved TV personalities.

In celebration of its fifth anniversary, visitors to The Sill on Friday 29 July will be gifted with their own National Park seed bomb to plant at home.