In February 2018 the Methodist Fellowship embarked on a process leading to the closure and disposal of the adjacent High House Chapel. This led to the Museum Trustees formulating a five-year development plan which included purchasing the Chapel to create The Weardale Museum & Heritage Centre, expanding their collections and social impact to benefit the Weardale population and the wider diaspora. The trustees aim all year opening and visitors rising to c.20,000 p.a., alongside more engagement with our digital provision, and recognising that an inclusive and effective activity programme will be needed to achieve and sustain this. The Methodist Fellowship closed the adjacent Chapel in September 2019 and ownership of the grade 2 listed building transferred to the Museum in June 2020.
As a keystone of the museum’s development plan the acquisition of the Chapel will allow us to improve physical and intellectual access to the collection, improve our conservation and curatorial practices, and encourage interaction with an expanded range of stories told and explored by a wider variety of people. This will necessitate adaptations to the building, creating level access to an exhibition and events venue for music, drama and the arts. Currently there are no visitor facilities so we will commission a new, low impact structure in the grounds to provide reception, sales, refreshments and toilets, plus an adjoining Changing Place Facility, publicly accessible “out of hours” via RADAR key. Car parking will be located nearby and include disability spaces and two EVCPs. Restoration works are costed as circa £750,000 plus similar figure for adaptations and creation of performance and exhibition areas.
One significant risk to the listed building and to the collections has been the frequent flooding of parts of the ground floors of the Manse and the Chapel resulting from poor camber and drainage design of the main A689 road adjacent to the property. Since the 1970s thousands of gallons of rain and flood waters have flowed into the foundations of the Chapel, resulting in significant structural and fabric damage and directly leading to the eventual closure of this historic worship centre. Arising from our challenges, in July 2020 the highways authority carried out remedial works which, together with internal restoration works we commissioned in November 2020, have finally ended this previously intractable problem.
The Museum is located within the North Pennines AONB, in both a Local Conservation Area and a Global Geopark. In this rural area there is no piped gas supply and the majority of the 8,000 population of Weardale are dependent on oil, electricity, solid fuel or bottled gas to provide their energy needs. We intend installing an efficient, controllable, renewable air source system for space heating and hot water. As a fully accredited museum we must meet conservation requirements, including ensuring a minimum level of heating to protect artefacts. Funding has been secured to install a discreet photo-voltaic system by way of further reducing our carbon footprint. Despite the beauty of this rural Dale, it is in the lowest 15% of the Indices of Deprivation.
In creating this new tourism attraction, we will hope to extend the Visitor stay in Weardale; contributing to the economic regeneration of the Dale the museum will employ a staff team of 7 to support the 140+ Volunteers who offer their skills and time; will support such as accommodation, travel, catering and other tourism providers in actively promoting Weardale. We will liaise with heritage partner agencies to attract new visitors via Coach Holiday Heritage Tours to the Dale, such offer including partners with whom we work: Beamish Museum; Killhope Lead Mining Museum; The Auckland Project; Bowes Museum and the Weardale Heritage Railway.
The Weardale Heritage Centre is planned to open during 2023 and will provide:
We value the support of many individuals and charitable Trusts & Foundations. As there are so many elements of the development and programme, any gift is welcomed and will be effectively applied.
Further Information on the project is available from Allan Percival, the Museum's Development Lead. Allan can be contacted either, via email at [email protected] or, phone on 0797 623 8503.