Housesteads facelift – consultations with the public

The visitor centre at Housesteads is not that old. I remember when there was just that little museum half way up to the fort. But this piece of news cheers me; it’s chiefly the idea of consulting the local people.

* Hexham Courant Thanks to Explorator for the link.

Major facelift at Roman fort

Last updated 13:46, Friday, 06 March 2009

PROPOSALS for a major facelift for one of Tynedale’s premier Roman sites have been unveiled.

The National Trust and English Heritage are planning to join forces to provide a new visitor attraction at Housesteads Fort, near Bardon Mill.

But exactly how the visitor experience on the best-known fort on the Wall is enhanced will be up to the public.

The two organisations believe local insight is key to making sure that the needs of visitors and local communities alike are at the heart of the site’s activities.

So they are staging a series of meetings and exhibitions across the district to establish what people want.

A spokeswoman for the National Trust said: “Our research search with our visitors last autumn let us know what kind of facilities people expect – a shop, restaurant, loos, parking, etc.

“What we want from the local community is to know how they would like to use the site.

“We’re not quite starting with a blank canvas, but at the same time we don’t want to pigeon-hole them into thinking we only have a few options and they have to stick to those limitations.”

The success of the recent Hadrian Exhibition at the British Museum has provided many ideas which could be emulated at Housesteads.

The spokeswoman said: “The exhibition at the British Museum featured all kinds of artefacts from the Roman period and life-size statues – should these artefacts come to Housesteads?

“There are some loose themes we’re working around, such as the people who lived here, the landscape and the frontier itself.

“The consultation is therefore all about the experience that people will have at Housesteads – how they can discover more about the themed areas, and can go away saying, ‘I really enjoyed doing that, I’d like to do it again’.

“Housesteads is already a huge pull to visitors across the country, but we also want to ensure that the local community visit regularly and there’s something that they can enjoy too. This is our reason for involving them heavily in our plans.”

Exhibitions will take place on Saturday at Wentworth Leisure Centre and the Queen’s Hall in Hexham, and at Haltwhistle library, from 9am to 4pm.

Visitors will be invited to add their initial thoughts and ideas to consultation panels on display at the three venues.

Staff from the National Trust and English Heritage will be joining a coffee morning at Haltwhistle Methodist Church hall to test reactions to a range of activity ideas for the fort as well as asking for their suggestions next Thursday from 9.30-11.30am.

The two organisations will also be manning a stall at the Hexham and Haltwhistle Saturday markets on Saturday, April 18, when residents can also give their views.

Housesteads is the best preserved and most dramatically positioned of all the Roman forts on Hadrian’s Wall.

Built by Emperor Hadrian in about AD124 to secure the new frontier now known as Hadrian’s Wall, it is the most complete example of a Roman fort in Britain.

It was garrisoned by a cohort of around 800 soldiers originally from Belgium and later reinforced by Germanic cavalry.

Excavations at the fort began in 1822 and have revealed four double gateways, three barrack blocks and latrines, as well as the commandant’s house, headquarters building and hospital.

National Trust spokes-woman Melanie Eve, said: “The public consultation programme forms part of a five-year plan that aims to transform the visitor experience at Housesteads Roman Fort.

“We want to bring to life the people of Housesteads’ past and display more important artefacts originally discovered at the site, as well as providing better educational and community facilities.”

English Heritage’s outreach manager – North East, Alexandra Markham, said:“Housesteads is the best preserved Roman fort along Hadrian’s Wall and we really want to offer the best possible visitor experience.”

The five-year plan is subject to the National Trust and English Heritage gaining external funding and support from philanthropic sources, individuals and public bodies, all of whom both organisations hope will develop a partnership role at Housesteads.

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