The future of the oldest operational suspension bridge in the world has been secured.
The Union Chain Bridge – which has provided a transport link between Scotland and England for 200 years – has received £3.14million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to allow a major programme of repairs to get underway early next year.
In addition, the successful bid to The National Lottery Heritage Fund means a comprehensive programme of community engagement and education activities will now get underway designed to celebrate and explore the bridge’s historical and engineering importance, and potentially boost local tourism.
The success will be celebrated today (Wednesday 18 September) with a visit to the bridge by His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester.
The funding bid was put together by Northumberland County Council (NCC), Scottish Borders Council (SBC), Museums Northumberland and community group Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, following serious concerns about the condition of the famous structure.
Both councils have committed match funding totalling £3.4m towards the scheme, with other fundraising activities continuing to be progressed by the Friends of Union Chain Bridge in support of the project.
Anyone willing to get involved in this exciting project – by pledging your support or becoming a volunteer – can visit www.unionbridgefriends.com/become-a-friend/
David Renwick, Director, England: North, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Not only have National Lottery players secured the future of the iconic structure that is the Union Chain Bridge, but the money they have raised will also strengthen connections between communities in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.
“We are delighted that through a programme of ambitious activities, our funding will provide exciting opportunities for people to explore the heritage and stories of the Union Chain Bridge, and hopefully inspire a new generation of engineers from communities on both sides of the Bridge.
“It is heartening for us to see that two of the cross-border local authorities involved in Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal – Northumberland County Council and the Scottish Borders Council – working together on this wonderful heritage scheme that will improve transport links and connectivity for the area extending across the Scotland-England border, and in turn we hope to see economic growth of the area increase further.”
Councillor Glen Sanderson, Cabinet Member for Environment and Local Services with NCC, said: “We are absolutely delighted to have secured this funding after two years of hard work to get to this point.
“We submitted an extremely comprehensive second round submission and we knew we were up against strong competition but were quietly confident of a positive result.
“This bridge is known and loved not just locally, but nationally and internationally and we’ve had support from across the world since we started on this submission.
“The successful bid shows the benefits of close working between ourselves, Museums Northumberland, the Friends of Union Chain Bridge and our colleagues in Scottish Borders Council in creating a unique, exciting and substantial cross-border, cross-council venture.”
Councillor Gordon Edgar, SBC’s Executive Member for Roads and Infrastructure, said: “This is a momentous day in the 200 year history of the Union Chain Bridge.
“Not only is the future of the bridge now secured, but our partnership project will now take forward a number of initiatives which will aim to bring numerous culture, heritage and community benefits, and could prove a catalyst for the local tourism industry.
“The support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund has made this possible – without it, we would likely have seen the condition of the bridge decline further.
“We will be reaching out to the local communities and schools as part of the public engagement element of the project in the coming months, which will include volunteer recruitment and a new digital presence.
“In the meantime, we would appeal to anyone interested in supporting this ambitious and exciting project to get in touch with the Friends of the Union Chain Bridge.”
Robert Hunter, Chair of the Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, said: “We are all thrilled that The National Lottery Heritage Fund has made such a substantial grant to save this much loved and iconic piece of our engineering history.
“When it was completed in 1820, the Union Chain Bridge was the world’s longest suspension bridge and it provided the catalyst for huge innovation in bridge design.
“I was reminded of this at our recent ceremony to mark the bicentenary of the laying of the foundation stone, when we received congratulatory messages from a number of bridges around the world. These included the Clifton and Menai bridges in the UK and the Akashi Bridge in Japan, which is the current holder of the world’s longest suspension bridge.
“I am enormously grateful to our Friends, NCC, SBC and Museums Northumberland who have worked incredibly hard get to this outcome.
“Together with our other funders we are not only going to restore the bridge but deliver a really exciting project of community events, which will allow all of us to be incredibly proud of this great structure.”
Rowan Brown, Chief Executive of Museums Northumberland, said: “We’re delighted that working with our local authority partners and the Friends of the Union Chain Bridge we have been able to secure National Lottery support to preserve and celebrate this incredible heritage monument.
“We will use it as the catalyst for embedding science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and heritage skills across our communities on both sides of the border.”
Built in 1820 by Captain Samuel Brown, the Union Chain Bridge is the oldest operational suspension bridge in the world still carrying vehicles.
In March 2018, a development funding bid to The National Lottery Heritage Fund by NCC, SBC, Museums Northumberland and Friends of the Union Chain Bridge to completely restore the famous structure, secured a £360,000 development grant.
The development work included detailed investigations to assess the condition of every element of the bridge and how best to undertake the conservation and repair works.
The project team also developed interpretation proposals and a comprehensive programme of community engagement and education activities, designed to celebrate and explore the bridge’s historical and engineering importance and provide learning opportunities to inspire a new generation to consider a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
These proposals will now become reality after the delivery round application to The Fund – submitted in May 2019 – was successful.