Outrage grows over plan to close George Stephenson's birthplace

15 February 2017 5:03PM

FORMER volunteers who gave their time to run George Stephenson’s Birthplace have joined residents to voice their outrage at its closure.

The National Trust’s recent decision to shut the Wylam heritage site has sent shockwaves across the district.

Citing falling footfall and rising costs, the Trust has described the closure as temporary.

The cottage will remain closed for the rest of this year. The National Trust has said that the time will be used to re-evaluate the attraction’s future.

At Monday’s meeting of Wylam Parish Council, the move was described as appalling.

Two former volunteers at George Stephenson’s Birthplace attended the meeting.

One said: “I’m torn between wanting to support the National Trust and feeling very strongly that it has made a very quick and unwise decision.

“I feel it should have consulted with the public first. It had plenty of time to do that. The way it’s been handled is a complete public relations disaster.”

The meeting heard from the volunteers that paid workers at the cottage had been informed of the closure on January 25.

And volunteers were told the next day that the site would close the following weekend.

Another former volunteer told the meeting: “I’m just appalled.

“We have been complaining over the last 10 years that the signage wasn’t good.

“There’s no brown heritage sign anywhere near the village. When people arrive at the car park they’re not sure where to go.

“The National Trust said it was too expensive to put in a brown sign. It costs around £1,500 which is a mere pimple to the Trust.”

A consultation process is due to take place during the temporary closure. The National Trust is also undertaking a feasibility study with the University of Northumbria to assess options.

However, speaking at the meeting, Coun. Stephen Barlow said: “If it was really serious about it being a temporary closure, it would keep it open, make changes and monitor the footfall.

“My cynical view is that it has already taken its decision. The temporary closure is to soften the blow.”

Chairwoman of the parish council Anne Francis said that the National Trust had been in touch regarding a meeting.

She explained that the parish council was in the process of arranging a meeting with the Trust regarding the closure and its concerns.

Coun. Tony Mitcham said: “I think there has been such a reaction to their announcement that there may be a positive outcome in the end and we should work to make sure that’s the case.”

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