A planning application has been formally submitted by Durham County Council for the creation of a new history centre for County Durham.
The proposed development would see the restoration and refurbishment of the Grade II-listed Mount Oswald Manor House to bring together archive, heritage and registration services for the county.
If approved, the centre will tell the story of the county’s history and heritage through historic records, photographs and objects and will also host exhibitions, activities and events and provide a countywide outreach programme for children, schools and communities.
The focus would be on the stories of working people and everyday families, with people able to discover and explore the county’s rich history from nationally and internationally significant collections.
In addition to the county’s archives, which are currently accessed more than one million times a year, the centre would house historic registration records, historic environment and archaeology records and local studies collections.
The Durham Light Infantry (DLI) Collection would also be included, bringing together all items from the collection with DLI archives cared for by Durham County Record Office, for the first time since 1998.
The project would also see the relocation from Aykley Heads of Durham Register Office, offering enhanced facilities for weddings and civil ceremonies in the historic surroundings of the manor house.
And the plans include state-of-the-art search rooms, including innovative digital facilities, a dedicated learning space, exhibition and interpretation spaces and a café.
The application for Durham History Centre has been submitted by Durham County Council and, if it is approved, the ownership of the Manor House and surrounding land will be transferred by owners The Banks Group to the county council for a nominal fee to secure its future use and benefit for the people of County Durham.
Cllr Joy Allen, Cabinet member for transformation, culture and tourism, said: “Our plans for Durham History Centre are based on providing an opportunity for our whole community to experience, enjoy and engage with the unique heritage of County Durham and its people. Restoring and enhancing the beautiful Grade II-listed manor house and its grounds, would open up new spaces for everyone to use and enjoy and provide a secure future for our important heritage collections.
“People are at the heart of our ambitions for this public venue. From weddings to school visits, researchers to community groups, our aim is to create a place rooted in the rich stories of our county, a place where everyone can feel represented, understood and celebrated.”
The project has received significant support from the public, with a consultation in 2018 receiving more than 600 responses – 83 per cent of which were in favour of the proposal.
Respondents were keen to see the centre offering exhibitions, multi-media access to collections, talks and behind the scenes tours. There was also particularly strong support for the inclusion of the DLI / military collection.
John Ruddick, senior property development manager at The Banks Group, said: “As part of the development of the wider Mount Oswald site, we examined a number of options for the future of the Manor House to ensure that the best sustainable, continued use could be made of this impressive Grade II-listed building.
“Locating the history centre within the Manor House site makes clear sense and will ensure it has a prestigious new home that reflects its importance to the city and county and makes everything that it holds readily available to the public.
“The redevelopment of the Mount Oswald site was designed by Banks in support of the county council’s vision of Durham City acting as a driver of economic growth in the county, and a long-established Durham-based family business, we are pleased to be seeing several different aspects of these plans now being realised to the benefit of both the city and the wider region.”
Copies of the applications and plan(s) are available on the council’s website at www.durham.gov.uk. Comments can be submitted online, submitted by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or in writing to the Planning Development, Room 4/86-102, County Hall, Durham, DH1 5UL during the public consultation period.