Today Northumberland National Park Authority welcomed The Prince of Wales on a special visit to commemorate the official opening of The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre on Hadrian’s Wall.
His Royal Highness was given a guided tour of the award-winning building, which includes an 86-bed Youth Hostel operated by YHA (England and Wales). 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), and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) through a £7.8 million grant made possible by National Lottery players.
Named after the nearby Great Whin Sill, one of the UK’s most significant geological features, the Centre provides a gateway to inspire and enable people of all ages to understand and explore the iconic landscapes, history, culture and heritage of Northumberland.
To mark his visit, The Prince of Wales unveiled a special commemorative stone on the Centre’s Whin Sill grassland roof, and took time to enjoy the iconic view of the Hadrian’s Wall UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Glen Sanderson, Northumberland National Park Authority Chairman, said: “We are honoured to welcome His Royal Highness here today to join us in celebrating The Sill and its purpose of connecting people with our wonderful countryside.
“The Sill provides an important opportunity for people to explore, understand and nurture our landscapes and the people, heritage and wildlife that shape them.
“Today’s celebration is testament to years of hard work and the firm belief that our nation’s exceptional landscapes should be enjoyed by as many people as possible. We want Northumberland National Park to be a sustainable cultural asset that benefits the region for many years to come.”
Since opening to the public in July 2017, the Centre has rapidly become one of the region’s leading visitor attractions, welcoming over 170,000 visitors and well ahead of the National Park Authority’s original projections in just 12 months.
During the tour, His Royal Highness met with local school children from St Agnes School in Ryton and Henshaw Primary School in Bardon Mill, along with several Sill project partners and local stakeholders.
Ivor Crowther, Head of HLF North East, said: “With Hadrian’s Wall, International Dark Skies, stunning landscapes and many other parts of our incredible heritage on its doorstep, The Sill is the perfect starting point from which to explore Northumberland National Park. Thanks to National Lottery players, this state-of-the-art discovery centre has already attracted thousands of visitors and its year-round programme of exhibitions and activities for all ages is sharing this area’s incredible stories and unquestionable beauty with more people than ever before.”
Built at a cost of £8.7 million, The Sill represents the single largest investment ever made in a UK national park. In May this year, the building received a RIBA North East Award from the Royal Institute of British Architects for architectural excellence. It has also been nominated in the Construction Industry Research and Information Association’s (CIRIA) Biodiversity Awards.
The Centre offers exhibition, learning and event spaces, a café, rural business hub, YHA accommodation and a shop packed with local produce, arts and crafts.
Peter Gaines, Chairman of YHA (England and Wales), said: “YHA The Sill is one of our flagship youth hostels, helping us reach more young people and their families and introducing them to the fabulous Northumberland landscape. Since opening we have welcomed more than 8,000 young people staying with their families and schools.
“As a leading youth charity it is so important to us that we inspire and support many more young people both locally and nationally and help them on their personal journey of travel, adventure and discovery and our accommodation at The Sill is helping us with that mission.”
The building’s fully accessible Whin Sill grassland roof is a world first and planted with a unique community of native plants including slow growing grasses and wildflowers. Its walkway and viewing platforms provide sweeping views of the iconic Northumbrian landscape and Steel Rigg on Hadrian’s Wall.
The design and the structural materials used to create the building are inspired by The Great Whin Sill and it is positioned to mimic this dramatic geological outcrop with natural undulations and flowing lines.
It was designed by Ponteland-based architects JDDK and built by Sir Robert McAlpine. Local materials were used in its construction, including local sandstone, whinstone and larch cladding. A south facing timber canopy supports photovoltaic cells to provide a renewable energy source as well as shade from the sun.
Through The Sill and a pledge to deliver 30,000 activity days, Northumberland National Park Authority is working with schools, community organisations and businesses to provide educational workshops, activities and other experiential opportunities connected to the landscape, which are designed to suit all ages and abilities throughout the Park.