PICTURE this, a whole heritage centre that grew out of one woman’s attempt to reunite people with prized old photographs.

The photographic connection continued when, following Dorothy Bell’s endeavour to return the pictures she’d inherited to the people in them, Edie Lyons – who had worked for Bellingham photographer W. P. Collier in the 1920s – formally opened Bellingham Heritage Centre, on 10 June 1994.

Tomorrow, Hexham’s MP Guy Opperman will formally mark the 25th anniversary of the centre that grew out of nowhere with another ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Dorothy and Edie are no longer with us, but their legacy is going from strength to strength.

Few of the pictures the former inherited found their way home, despite the exhibition Dorothy held in Bellingham Library.

Instead, the wish to preserve the local history they represented triggered the foundation of the heritage centre.

When it opened, it was located in Shellcroft, in the building that once housed the garage run by the Thompson family. When time and circumstance forced a move, the centre was ready for it – the contents had outgrown the space.

Today, it inhabits what was another garage conversion (formerly used for five huge gritting machines) in the old Station Yard.

The Border Counties Railway line that once ran through the village is now long gone, but the Carriages Tea Room standing out front still speaks of those times, as does the permanent exhibition within the heritage centre’s walls.

A generous grant enabled the displays to be remodelled and expanded, among them a representation of W.P. Collier’s shop built using some of the original fittings.

That is Collier fan Stan Owen’s ‘baby’. Despite still living in his home city of Coventry, in the house he was born in, he spends a lot of time in Bellingham and the county he fell in love with during a cycling trip as a young man.

Nowadays he is also responsible for coming up with the ideas for and arranging the temporary exhibitions that punctuate each year.

“This year was easy!” he said. “First off, there’s our own 25th anniversary and then there’s the centenary of the Forestry Commission and the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth.

“I’m already up to 2023 in my head, which will be the centenary of the London North Eastern Railway.”

Several special events this year mark the centre’s silver jubilee.

One such took place on April 11, when television personality Paul Laidlaw and fellow antiques expert Georgina Norman conducted a valuation day to help generate money for heritage centre funds.

One visitor went home very happy after discovering the piece of jewellery she’d bought for £2 wasn’t in fact made of glass, but diamonds.

By all accounts, Mr Laidlaw, who has a special interest in military history, was so impressed with The Great War exhibition and just how much is packed into the Tardis of a museum in general that he has promised to return with his family.

People are always surprised by the scope and breadth of the material there, said Stan. “The research area where people can investigate their family names is probably the most popular.

“We have about 3,500 names on our database, with lots of Armstrongs and Robsons. If you’re ancestor is John Robson, it’s going to take you a while,” he laughed. “But we always do our best to help.”