Multi-million-pound plans have been unveiled for a distillery and visitor centre on a prime site in Wooler, which would create 50 jobs.
The development is being proposed for the dilapidated former Redpath’s Yard, on South Road, and is described as ‘one of the largest single inward investments ever made in north Northumberland’.
Developers hope the Ad Gefrin Distillery – named after the Anglo-Saxon palace at nearby Yeavering Bell – will reinvigorate the local economy, help to retain young people in its workforce, regenerate a site disused for more than 20 years and become a major tourist attraction.
Described as being Northumberland’s first whisky distillery, the venue would create a starting point for Scotland’s world-renowned Malt Whisky Trail.
The visitor centre would tell the story of Wooler and the surrounding area, chronicling its fascinating history and heritage.
The scheme will be developed and operated by the Ferguson family – a well-known and respected local family who have run businesses in Northumberland across four generations for more than 100 years.
Alan Ferguson said: “This is a very bold undertaking for our entire family, involving my wife Eileen, our five children and myself.
“Our ultimate aim is to develop a unique single malt whisky and a major attraction, as well as opening a new chapter in the cultural developments and traditions of Glendale.
“Ad Gefrin is a multi-million-pound project which will totally transform this site, and we believe the community, local businesses and local producers will all benefit.
“Our proposal is probably one of the largest single inward investments ever made in north Northumberland. Ad Gefrin will be a key part of the long-term process of much-needed regeneration in this area and we believe it will enhance our community for generations to come.
“We want to develop a high quality visitor experience based around whisky, the distillery and the history and heritage of the area and our aim is to put this area on the map and sell Northumberland to the world.”
People are invited to learn more about the project and to share their views and memories at a public consultation at 2 High Street, Wooler, from today until August 31, from 10am to 4pm.
The exhibition will be transferred to Glendale Show on August Bank Holiday Monday.
This will be followed by the submission of the architect’s designs and plans for the development to Northumberland County Council’s planning department in October. Subject to the relevant planning consents, it is hoped that the distillery and visitor centre will open its doors by 2020.
Such is the length of the process of laying down a fine whisky, the full release of the Ad Gefrin Single Malt is not expected until 2028.
Background research conducted by the Ferguson family concluded there were two key opportunities. The first was the continuing growth in the global demand for whisky and the second the need for a high quality visitor destination in north Northumberland.
Wooler’s nearest distillery, Glenkinchie, more than 50 miles to the north in Lothian, attracts in excess of 60,000 annual visitors, with an average spend per person benefitting the wider local economy by £12.60.
Chris Ferguson, who will be developing the project with Eileen Ferguson, said: “We are incredibly excited to bring whisky distilling back to Northumberland.
“Working in partnership with the local community, and with the best craftsmen in the industry, we aim to create something truly innovative and distinctively Northumbrian. We want to build a lasting legacy for the town and county that can celebrate the best of Northumberland, our culture and history now, and in the future.”
In its heyday, Redpath’s Haulage employed many local people. Eileen, nee Redpath, brought the two families together.
She said: “We are thrilled to have the chance to create something meaningful for everyone on this prominent site.
“Many people will remember Redpath’s Yard over the years and I would love feedback and memories from local people, especially about Redpath’s, to add to my own fond recollections of working and living in Wooler.
“We want to include as much as we can from the community in our new plans and I particularly look forward to working in Wooler again.”
The distillery will use local barley and the visitor centre will have a focus on featuring local artists and craftspeople.
Jude Leitch, director of Northumberland Tourism, said: “The Ad Gefrin development is extremely exciting.
“Our aim is to encourage visitors to explore all parts of our county, including our rural upland areas, and this development will encourage this to happen, providing a focal point for visitors throughout the year, creating new jobs and ensuring the continuation of vibrant and thriving local communities within Wooler and the surrounding area.”
The announcement follows the findings and recommendations of the Wooler Neighbourhood Plan, which recommends the use of former industrial sites to grow and develop the local economy, and retain and upskill younger people.
For people who can’t make the consultation, email firstname.lastname@example.org