Turning tragedy into triumph

Where the classrooms will be.
Where the classrooms will be.

The turf is on the roof, the timber beams are up and the flooring is set to be laid. Hauxley Nature Reserve’s bespoke new visitor centre is taking shape.

And this eye-catching building is a shining example of how to turn a tragedy into a triumph.

The view from the new visitor centre.

The view from the new visitor centre.

It was 2010 when the attraction’s former premises was burnt down in an arson attack. It was a sickening blow for this tranquil haven, which is much loved by wildlife enthusiasts. But thankfully, there will be a happy ending; a new and superior facility is rising from the ashes.

Six years on from the fire, this eco-friendly wildlife discovery centre is edging ever closer to completion, after work started in May 2015.

The aim is to have a soft launch early in the new year. It has taken the team – mainly made up of volunteers – longer than expected to reach this point. But that’s because the building is no ordinary one. It is bespoke, quirky and different.

Not only has it been described as Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s biggest building project for some time, it has also been labelled as its flagship building.

Outside of the visitor centre.

Outside of the visitor centre.

And it will be worth the wait. This smart-looking centre will provide a focus for wildlife watching, education and engagement – massively enhancing the Hauxley visitor experience.

The Trust’s Duncan Hutt said: “This centre really is on a different scale to anything we have done before. It is a complex, striking building. It has taken longer than we thought, but that is because we are trying to do something that is cutting edge and looking at new ways of doing things – and that has sometimes come back to bite us.

“But we are delighted with how the centre is progressing and we have received some great feedback about it. The staff and volunteers are really proud of what has been achieved so far and we will all be even prouder of what we have done once it’s finished.”

There have been more than 100 volunteers working on the project – which received more than £400,000 of funding – with a core team of around 20 regulars.

An artist's impression of the new Hauxley nature reserve building.

An artist's impression of the new Hauxley nature reserve building.

The construction has used locally-grown and traditional building materials, including straw bales, turf for the green roof from Ellington, stones for 150 gabion baskets from Howick Quarry and structural timber from the Trust’s Briarwood Banks reserve.

The Trust reckons the eco-build has the potential to be the greenest building in the North East. And it has been a rewarding experience for the army of helpers.

Two of these are Alan Dodds, from Amble, and Tony Millns, from Hauxley. Alan said: “So much manual labour has gone into this – everything has had to be done by hand. We have learnt a lot and the building is something to be seen.”

Tony added: “It has been great working on this project. It was awful when the previous building was burnt down, but the upshot is that this new centre will be the flagship building for the Trust. It is state-of-the-art where an eco-building is concerned.”

The cafe area is taking shape.

The cafe area is taking shape.

Work has been done elsewhere on the Reserve, installing footpaths for a circular walk, adding viewing screens and creating habitats. The Reserve is currently closed, but open days take place on the second weekend of each month, from 10am to 4pm.

Volunteers Tony Millns, Alan Dodds and Morris Salby.

Volunteers Tony Millns, Alan Dodds and Morris Salby.

The burnt out hide at Hauxley Nature Reserve, some with Duncan Hutt from Northumberland Wildlife Trust.

The burnt out hide at Hauxley Nature Reserve, some with Duncan Hutt from Northumberland Wildlife Trust.