SBC asked to pay £123k for Roman revamp

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Scottish Borders Council is being asked to help put plans for a £1.9m revamp of the Trimontium Museum in Melrose back on track.

The council is being recommended to commit £123,000 to enhance the ambitious project’s prospects of gaining essential funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Last autumn, the Trimontium Trust, whose volunteers have run the Ormiston Institute attraction for the past 25 years, was unsuccessful in an initial bid for £1.4m from the HLF.

Councillors will hear today that one of the reasons the application failed was that for such a large-scale project and one involving a council-administered building, the HLF would have expected a financial contribution from the council.

A report from SBC’s depute chief executive Jeannette McDiarmid states that, since that rebuff, the trust had been “encouraged by the HLF” to submit a revised bid.

“The trust is looking for SBC to provide support in the region of 10% of the capital cost [of construction] of £1.2m,” states Mrs McDiarmid.

“It is proposed the council provides a £60,000 capital contribution from the emergency and unplanned fund and a further £63,000 of benefit ‘in kind’ in the form of officer time … comprising £56,000 of architectural services and £7,000 of clerk of works services.”

She says an urgent decision is required because the trust’s revised lottery application must be submitted in early March.

Councillors, who recently agreed to spend £3.36m creating a permanent home for the Great Tapestry of Scotland in Galashiels, will hear that an aspiration of the Melrose project – involving a doubling in size and capacity of the current accommodation – is to increase annual visitor numbers from 3,000 to 12,000.

“This project at the only museum in Scotland dedicated solely to Roman history will deliver a range of benefits, including the creation of a high-quality tourism destination to add to the tourism offer of Melrose and the wider area,” states the report.

Trust chairman Dr John Reid said he appreciated the efforts of the council in assisting with the preparation of the revised lottery bid.

“Artefacts not on display are either in storage or with the National Museum, while the results of a major 10-year excavation at Newstead by students of Bradford University has yet to be seen by the public,” he said.

“In addition, there has been no refurbishment since the museum opened in 1991 and over those 25 years there have been great advances in display technology.

“We want to embrace modern interpretive methods of display and thus be able to strengthen and supplement a great body of work and artefacts that will have international appeal.”

Trimontium (the three hills) was the fort – a mile away from the museum – 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.