History of the Discovery Centre
The idea of a Solway Coast Discovery Centre (SCDC) was born following the publication of the first Management Plan for the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1998.
Within the document it was recognised that the area, which was little known, needed a flagship/gateway site to reveal many of the hidden secrets that the landscape of the Solway Coast has to offer both visitors and locals. The project was completed in three phases.
Identifying the building
The first problem was to identify an existing building that could house such a scheme and, more importantly, do it in a sustainable way. The sustainable criteria used were that it should not damage the beauty of the area, it should not create visitor pressure within the area and that it should use an existing building.
After looking at farm buildings, derelict large houses and other similar buildings, the old St Paul's School in Silloth-on-Solway was brought to the attention of Solway Rural Initiative (SRI) by the Save St Paul's Group, a group of individuals who did not want to see part of their heritage disappear. St Paul's School was the first public building in Silloth and had been around since 1857. The building had been condemned and was due for demolition; it was at this point that the SRI Solway Coast AONB Department went into action.
Design and refurbishment
The building had lost part of its roof, the walls were bowing outward, the windows were rotten and the whole building needed a full refurbishment. An architect was secured and a bill of works was presented to the Department as a standard set of works to make the building weatherproof. It was at this point that the decision was taken to create the most energy efficient public building in Cumbria. At the same time other pieces of homework were done, including a survey of other public buildings used as visitor attractions and especially those that had gone bust. We soon realised that the main factor in running an enterprise of this sort successfully is lowering your overheads and more importantly fuel bills. It was decided that thermal insulation in walls, roof and floor were important, as well as windows and doors. We looked at a wood-chip boiler but found that it was impossible to source local fuel, so we decided to go for a condensing gas boiler, which is the least polluting and most efficient gas-fuelled installation for heating.
We also went for under-floor heating which is also very efficient.
Finally, we built a glass atrium as the main doorway - this acts as a solar collector and heats the building passively. All lighting is low voltage and the toilets minimise water use.
The building was fully restored and handed over in April, 2002, at a cost of approximately £400,000. This ended Phase 2 of the project.
The old headmaster's house, which is attached to the school, was also refurbished to the same high standard, except this project was initiated and completed using 18-24 year-olds on a New Deal Scheme called Environmental Task Force (ETF) run by the Employment Service. This scheme trained 33 young individuals from rural areas in basic building techniques and, more importantly, provided them with real work and skills. The offices were completed at the same time as the SCDC and now house the Solway Coast AONB Management Unit.
The funders of the project were:
- European Regional Development Fund
- Heritage Lottery Fund
- North West Development Agency
- Allerdale Borough Council
- Silloth Town Council
- Cumbria County Council
- British Nuclear Fuels
- The Countryside Agency
- West Cumbria Tourism Initiative
- Solway Rural Initiative Limited
- The Hadfield Trust
- Cumbria Waste Management Environment Trust
- Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust
The Solway Coast Discovery Centre was opened in August 2002, by SRI Chairman Ian Fleming and local Councillor Margaret Snaith, following the final implementation phase consisting of the permanent exhibition, provision of a café and a retail shop.
The Discovery Centre is the first all-weather attraction and a showcase for the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The opening of the centre was a proud moment; it is a credit to all concerned and demonstrates the possibilities of working in partnership with local people, agencies and organisations.
The Discovery Centre was refurbished in 2005, which included a new exhibition, art gallery, refurbished TIC and an Education Resource Area. It is the ‘Gateway’ to the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and England’s Solway Coast, providing the ideal place to start your visit to this unique area.