This is the Report presented to Friends at the third Annual General Meeting at Hutton Village Hall on the 26th October 2016.
Review of Progress and Achievements for the Period ended 30th September 2016
The Union Chain Bridge repair and restoration project is the joint responsibility of the local authorities on each side of the Bridge – Northumberland County Council (who act as lead authority) and Scottish Borders Council. They are working in close co-operation with the national government heritage conservation agencies – Historic England and Historic Environment Scotland – towards completion of the works in advance of the Bridge’s bicentenary in July 2020.
The Report to the second Annual Meeting in October 2015 anticipated the early submission of Stage 1 of a two-stage application to the Heritage Lottery Fund to meet the substantial shortfall in contract costs, after allowing for committed financial allocations of £500,000 and £550,000 from Northumberland County and Scottish Borders Councils respectively. One year on, the Stage 1 bid is yet to be submitted, largely as a result of Historic England’s requirement for a detailed structural analysis before a formal application is made to them for Listed Building Consent; and before the Stage 1 bid is made. Completion of the analysis to the satisfaction of Historic England will allow that body to support the Heritage Lottery bid, which should considerably improve the bid’s chances of success. Notwithstanding the delays that have occurred, Northumberland County Council remain confident that the repair and restoration works will be completed comfortably in advance of the bicentenary.
One of the principal reasons for the formation of the Friends body was NCC’s desire to have in place a local community heritage group to assist it in its application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for grant funding towards those parts of the project which would qualify for assistance from that body.
It is a principal function of the Friends to promote and publicise the Bridge’s unique engineering, architectural and historic heritage not only locally but also further afield. The Friends’ membership register now extends to almost 600 members from throughout the British Isles as well as from Japan and the USA. To maintain the profile of the Bridge and the restoration project, while awaiting progress with the HLF bid, the Trustees, Friends and supporters have arranged publicity through various media, including television and radio (BBC Music Day; forthcoming Channel 4 River Tweed programme), local and national newspapers, Country Life magazine. For the third successive year, the Trust participated in Heritage Open Days on the 10th and 11th September with an information stall on the Northumberland side, attracting almost 100 visitors and a number of new members. Other promotional media include the Trust website at www.unionbridgefriends.co.uk, shortly to be updated, an active facebook page and membership newsletters. Merchandise including Friends’ mugs (including a matching English/Scottish pair), pens, greetings cards and prints of the Bridge, keep the Bridge and the project in the public eye.
Several social, sporting and cultural events have been organised. A very successful Charity Dinner and Auction was held in Paxton House on the 7th November; Harris Playfair and Heather Cattenach gave an acclaimed recital in Paxton House on February 26th 2016; and a typically excellent performance by the music department of The Berwickshire High School, promoted on behalf of the Friends by the Hutton and Paxton Community Council, was presented within the school concert hall on February 19th. As a result of these initiatives, an exciting plan is taking shape to bring together young musicians from both sides of the border with the aim of holding music workshops over an 18-month period, culminating in a performance of the “Union Bridge Orchestra” at Paxton House in July 2020, linked to a short tour of the Scottish Borders and North Northumberland and involving young musicians of senior school and student age.
An historic meeting of the Lord-Lieutenants of Berwickshire and Northumberland (Mrs Jeanna Swan and the Duchess of Northumberland) took place on the Bridge on the 25th May, followed by a well-attended Reception in Paxton House.
An inaugural “Two Nations” Bridge 7k run was organised on the 27th July and attracted well over 100 participants; it is hoped to attract sponsorship to hold a similar event in 2017.
The Horncliffe Hookers arts and crafts group knitted a splendid 6’ model of the Bridge which was exhibited in the Watch Tower Gallery in Berwick, followed by the Chain Bridge Honey Farm and it is expected to be on show in Paxton House until the end of October.