Melrose Roman museum revives £1.9m expansion plans

ictured at the museum are, front from left, councillors Iain Gillespie and Vicky Davidson, Trimontium Trust secretary Donald Gordon and council leader David Parker, with, back, trust chairman John Reid, museum curator Fiona Colton and councillor Jim Torrance.
ictured at the museum are, front from left, councillors Iain Gillespie and Vicky Davidson, Trimontium Trust secretary Donald Gordon and council leader David Parker, with, back, trust chairman John Reid, museum curator Fiona Colton and councillor Jim Torrance.

Melrose’s Trimontium Museum of Roman relics has revived its bid for a £1.9m revamp.

The tourist attraction had its initial request for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant rejected last year, but now, boosted by Scottish Borders Council’s backing, it is trying again.

What the proposed extension to the Trimontium Museum at Melrose would look like.

What the proposed extension to the Trimontium Museum at Melrose would look like.

The museum, housed within the Three Hills Roman Heritage Centre at the Ormiston Institute, is the only one in Scotland dedicated solely to Roman artefacts and it has the potential to become a visitor attraction of national importance, according to council leader David Parker.

Leaderdale and Melrose councillor Mr Parker expressed that aspiration as he backed a funding plea from the Trimontium Trust, the volunteer group that opened the museum in 1991, at last Thursday’s full council meeting.

The trust was seeking £123,000 from the council to strengthen its prospects of a successful bid for National Lottery funding to alter and extend the High Street museum.

Mr Parker told the meeting: “I think we are getting incredibly good value for money in supporting a project which will create a visitor attraction of national importance.”

The cash plea, supported in a report by council depute chief executive Jeanette McDiarmid, sparked no dissent and, the following day, the trust submitted an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £1.23m, almost two-thirds of the £1.83m cost of the refurbishment project.

Mrs McDiarmid reminded councillors that a similar bid to the fund had been rejected last autumn, saying that the reason given for that knockback was that for a project of this scale involving a local authority-administered building, a council contribution would be expected.

She added: “The fund has also encouraged the trust to resubmit a revised bid.

“It is proposed that the council provides a £60,000 capital contribution from its emergency and unplanned fund and a further £63,000 of benefit in kind in the form of officer time.”

She also confirmed that the trust hopes to raise the remainder of the total cost, around £450,000, from other funding sources and private donations.

Councillors heard that the Melrose museum hoped that doubling its size and capacity would enable it to treble the number of visitors it gets a year to 12,000.

Trust chairman John Reid told the meeting: “We currently have around 4,000 visitors to the museum annually in what is a shortened season, and, in addition, around 2,000 people a year go on the tours we organise to the Roman fort site at Newstead.

“There is no doubt that the renovation project will see footfall increase significantly.”

Afterwards, Dr Reid told the Southern: “The council’s decision to support our lottery bid is a fabulous demonstration of the great working relationship we have shared over the last 25 years.

“We hope to deliver a great experience for everyone in the Borders with an interest in their heritage.”

Trimontium, Latin for the three hills, was the name of the fort, a mile away from the museum near Newstead, occupied by the Romans intermittently from 80AD to 211AD.

At its height, around 1,500 soldiers were based there, along with a smaller civilian population.

The museum currently opens seven days a week from early April until the end of October.

Ward councillors Iain Gillespie, Jim Torrance and Mr Parker have also welcomed the fresh funding bid, saying, in a joint statement: “We are fully supportive of the Trimontium Trust and their bid for Heritage Lottery Fund funding.

“Melrose already draws in a large number of visitors every year, but this project would see the development of an attraction which would bring in additional visitors in its own right.

“The museum is highly regarded by visitors and provides an excellent learning experience on the Romans in the Borders.”

“School visits are encouraged and, indeed, the local primary school was very much involved with a project on the Synton hoard of silver denarii on show in the museum.

“The upgraded museum would encourage people exploring Roman attractions, especially the well-established ones in Northumberland, to travel on to the Scottish Borders and, no doubt, discover what else the town and wider region has to offer.

“It is very appropriate that in the Year of history, heritage and archaeology, the trust is pushing ahead with this project bid, and we congratulate the group of volunteers involved for their ambition and are pleased to give it our wholehearted support.”