A pioneering approach to engaging communities across County Durham in the area’s rich and varied history has received a £1.2 million boost.
Durham County Council has secured the grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to deliver a five-year programme of countywide activities and temporary exhibitions linked to the county’s new history centre.
The funding will also support an innovative digital offer, including a new dedicated history centre website; an online platform for people to search the collections, comment on heritage items and share their own stories; and the digitisation and cataloguing of thousands of photographs, objects, maps and other historic documents. This will allow people all over the world to connect with the county’s historic collections and archives in unique ways.
With construction now underway, the history centre is due to open at Mount Oswald on the outskirts of Durham City in 2023, bringing together archive, heritage, and registration services at a single location. It will also feature a café and an exhibition space showcasing the lesser told stories of working people.
It is expected to attract up to 70,000 visitors a year, but the engagement programme will extend the centre’s reach further still. More than 40 per cent of the activities planned will take place offsite in schools and community venues – a fact that did not escape the attention of The National Lottery Heritage Fund committee who praised the council’s countywide approach. They also described the digital programme as “sector-leading.”
Cllr Amanda Hopgood, Leader of Durham County Council, said: “We are absolutely delighted to receive this grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. This money will allow us to deliver a programme of exhibitions and engagement activities that will bring the stories of County Durham to life, encouraging residents of all ages to discover more about their ancestors and the people and events that shaped our communities.
“It is incredibly important to us that the history centre and the collections it houses are accessible to all and so it means a great deal to receive such glowing praise from the committee.”
Cllr Elizabeth Scott, the council’s Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “The history centre will act as a valuable heritage hub for all of County Durham, but we know that we also need to reach out to our communities if we want to promote long-term engagement. By staging temporary and touring exhibitions, linking up with schools, digitising our collections and hosting fascinating talks and workshops, we can showcase County Durham’s treasures to a far greater audience.
“I would like to thank The National Lottery Heritage Fund for their support, which will help us to turn this vision into a reality.”
David Renwick, Director, North of England, at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “It is fantastic news that thanks to the National Lottery players, we have been able to support Durham County Council to ensure that the county records are preserved for years to come, and will be made widely accessible through engagement activities and digitisation.
“This means that local communities and visitors can learn more about Durham’s people, history and heritage. We know that heritage in the North can play a huge role in bringing people together and creating a sense of pride in people’s hometowns and regions, in turn boosting the local economy, and the Durham history centre is a fantastic example of that.”
The history centre engagement programme will draw upon five of County Durham’s most important historical collections, allowing people of all ages to get up close to the treasures and stories within. This includes more than five miles of county archives charting almost 900 years of history, historic registration records, the local studies reference collection, the Historic Environment Record and the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) Collection and archive.
The future display and storage of the DLI Collection and archive is subject to a review, along with the former museum building and grounds. All options, including proposals to house the collection and archive at the history centre, are being considered. Whatever the outcome of this review, the collection will be integral to future engagement and outreach activities in the county.
The history centre itself will also provide a new home for Durham Register Office, with the Grade II listed manor house and grounds offering enhanced facilities for weddings and civil ceremonies.