The University of Durham has opened a new £1.25m visitor centre, which will highlight Durham Cathedral and Castle, and be home to its Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies.
The World Heritage Site Visitor Centre, based in the former Durham University Almshouses on Owengate, Durham City, will provide visitors with an overview of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
An official opening ceremony will take place in July, but the building is now open to the public and began with an informal concert by student choir Durham Polyphony.
The Visitor Centre will provide a central point of information about places to visit on the World Heritage Site including the Castle and the Cathedral with its Claustral Buildings including the Treasures of St Cuthbert. The Centre also complements the work of the separate Palace Green Library on the opposite side of the green which, with the recent launch of the public Wolfson Gallery, is growing not only as an historic visitor attraction, but as an enhanced research library for staff and students of the University and for visiting scholars.
Wider information about places to visit across Durham including the Botanic Garden, the Oriental Museum, Old Fulling Mill Museum of Archaeology, Durham Heritage Centre and Museum and the DLI Museum and Art Gallery will also be available. There will be the opportunity to buy tickets for attractions and to purchase souvenirs.
Computer terminals have been installed so that visitors can access information about other local places of interest. Tourists will also be able to access general information about attractions, with the Visitor Centre forming part of a network of tourist information points across County Durham.
Like the rest of the World Heritage Site, the Visitor Centre will also be a working building and will provide interactive experiences for visitors including exhibitions, performances and hands-on family activities.
The Visitor Centre also opens with a photographic exhibition by Durham University students and led by local photographer Andrew Heptinstall called “Our Living World Heritage Site”, illustrating the living and working environment of the Cathedral as a church and a major visitor attraction, and of the Castle, which is home to University College.
Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies will be developing interdisciplinary research about the World Heritage Site, as well as a wide range of activities geared towards public understanding.
Durham Student Theatre will also have a presence in the Visitor Centre and will put on performances for visitors.
Funding for the project has been provided by Durham County Council, ONE North East, the Chapter of Durham Cathedral, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and St Cuthbert’s Journey Committee. The University has donated the building and has led the redevelopment with Durham-based architects Howarth Litchfield Partnership and contractors Vest Construction. The photography exhibition has been sponsored by Epson.
The Visitor Centre opening coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Durham World Heritage Site’s inscription on the World Heritage List by UNESCO.
Professor Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “Durham’s UNESCO World Heritage Site is recognised world-wide for its architecture and cultural significance as an early seat of learning and centre for the development of Christianity in Europe.
“It is a place where our staff and students live, work and study and we are proud, in partnership with the Cathedral, to be a custodian of what is one of the world’s great treasures.
“The new Visitor Centre will ensure members of the University and our friends from the local and world community can better appreciate our heritage, history and culture, such as the University’s Treasures, now exhibited in a refurbished Palace Green Library, and The Treasures of St Cuthbert in the Cathedral.”
The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham, said: “Durham is a unique place, steeped in history. We are delighted to be working in partnership as stewards of the World Heritage Site. Durham Cathedral has a long tradition of offering hospitality to pilgrims as they visit the Shrine of St Cuthbert, the Tomb of the Venerable Bede and to marvel at the architecture; the Cathedral is often referred to as the greatest Romanesque building in Europe.
“There are so many stories to tell about the Cathedral, the Norman Castle, the wider peninsula and the communities that have formed what is Durham today. The new Visitor Centre provides opportunities for visitors and residents alike to learn more as they explore the World Heritage Site and all it entails.”
Councillor Neil Foster, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Economic Development at Durham County Council, said: “Tourism is a key priority for the regeneration of County Durham and this wonderful facility for visitors will I am sure, play a big part in the future development of the cultural and tourism offer.”
Melanie Sensicle, Chief Executive of Visit County Durham, said: “Millions of visitors come to Durham every year. Palace Green is a focal point for many whose trip often includes visiting our iconic World Heritage Site. Research tells us that that the provision of information and orientation are important to ensure visitor satisfaction, so the opening of the Visitor Centre is fantastic news for Durham.
“The Visitor Centre is a great addition to the wealth of things to do in Durham, strengthening the city’s offer to visitors by enabling them to learn, see and do more whilst enjoying their holiday.”
The new Visitor Centre complements the on-going work to improve the visitor experience to the World Heritage Site which has seen the opening of attractions such as the Wolfson Gallery, housing the Treasures of Durham University exhibition which featured the recovered Shakespeare First Folio as its first centrepiece.
Durham Cathedral is in the process of planning major developments including world class exhibition space and new retail facilities. This summer is the last chance to see the Treasures of St Cuthbert exhibition for a while as it is dismantled later in the year for a major condition check ahead, of being redisplayed in what will be a fabulous new exhibition.
The World Heritage Site Visitor Centre can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44 (0)191 334 3804.
For more information on the Durham World Heritage Site visit: www.durhamworldheritagesite.com
Source: Durham University