Alnwick Garden lands £5m Borderlands grant for play village

An artist's impression of the proposed Lilidorei play village at the Alnwick Garden.
An artist's impression of the proposed Lilidorei play village at the Alnwick Garden.

The Alnwick Garden will receive up to £5million from the Government to help develop the largest play structure in the world, it was revealed today.

Having first been revealed by the Gazette back in 2017, the Lilidorei play village project was approved by Northumberland County Council in July last year and is due to open to the public in 2021.

The grant is part of the £260million announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond in this afternoon's Spring Statement for the Borderland Inclusive Growth Deal, which follows the Scottish Government's commitment of £85million. The proposed deal covers the council areas of Dumfries and Galloway, Scottish Borders, Northumberland, Cumbria and Carlisle City.

Lilidorei (pronounced Lil-e-daw-re) is part of the Duchess of Northumberland’s ambition to bring play to a wider audience - a new visitor experience that connects the generations, but with children at its core.

Lilidorei means ‘the Children’s adventure with play at its heart’ and will involve building the world’s largest play structure in the heart of a play village, for land north of the Treehouse.

Construction on the £11.4million first phase of the project is due to begin in early 2020 ahead of the attraction opening in 2021.

Initially, Lilidorei will provide 57 full-time jobs and an additional 40 jobs in the build phase, mainly for local craftsmen. It is expected to boost the economy in Alnwick and the surrounding area by £68million over 10 years, while creating a multi-day destination that will drive tourism, jobs and growth across the region.

The final level of grant funding (up to the maximum of £5million) will be determined by the amount of match-funding the Alnwick Garden Charitable Trust is able to secure, but today’s announcement represents a considerable boost to the Lilidorei project.

Mark Brassell, director of The Alnwick Garden, said: "This is fantastic news for The Garden and the wider region. Lilidorei will draw visitors to Northumberland in the winter months, creating much needed economic activity and creating jobs. This will build on the social and economic impacts The Alnwick Garden has delivered over the last 18 years."

The Duchess added: "Lilidorei, a magical village of goblins, elves, sprites and fairies has been many years in the making. It will encourage children to use their imagination and to play and interact with others outdoors as an alternative to being alone in front of a screen. Play is important for the mind and body - it isn’t something we just do.

"Using the best craftsmen and film set designers Lilidorei will transport the visitor into a fantastical world of play and I’m so happy that it is going to appear in Northumberland."

A proposal by Northumberland County Council to back the scheme with an £8.5million loan in 2017 sparked a major backlash, being criticised by locals as well as attracting national media attention, before then council leader Grant Davey agreed to remove the loan from the spending plan during the debate on the 2017-18 budget.

Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, Jake Berry MP, said: "This is an historic next step in building our Northern Powerhouse. Putting The Alnwick Garden at the heart of our Borderlands Growth Deal will drive significant growth is Northumberland and the North East.

"Alnwick already has a proven track record in driving the leisure economy for the entire region and we are happy to be partners building on this success."