The Falcon Centre in Wylam has been a significant community focal point since it closed as the village primary school in the 1970s. For 40 years it been home to the local library, the Railway Museum and other community activities but, like its feathered namesake, it needs help to survive and shake off its endangered status. The building is owned by Northumberland County Council, is currently not well subscribed and, as a result of dwindling County Council resources, is poorly maintained.
The council has recently indicated an intention to consider other options for the building, including relocation of Wylam Library. There is increasing concern that unless local control of the maintenance and operation of the building can be secured, this magnificent public facility may be demolished for housing development.
The centre is a much-loved resource for the village, and a global attraction for rail enthusiasts and historians as the Railway Museum introduces visitors to Stephenson, Hackworth, and Hedley, Wylam’s renowned pioneers of rail transport. The library is a focus for children, families, and residents of nearby villages as a place to meet, read, or order books and additional literature from Northumberland library stocks, it is also host to activities for people of all ages.
Fledgling action group formed
In early 2021 concerned residents came together on Zoom to form an Action Group (FCAG) intent on preserving the Falcon Centre as a community resource. The aims of the group were agreed as:
“To benefit the residents of Wylam and the surrounding area without distinction of sex, sexual orientation, race or of political, religious or other opinions by providing, in conjunction with local authorities, voluntary and other organisations as appropriate facilities for recreation, education, arts and culture, heritage, environment, health and wellbeing and community based business activity in the former school building and site (known as the Falcon Centre) on Falcon Terrace, Wylam or elsewhere in the village and to encourage a community spirit, with the overall objective of improving the conditions of life for the residents.”
A survey of all households in Wylam showed overwhelming support for the plan to develop the centre as a community hub. As well as maintaining and developing the Library and Railway Museum, there was strong support for other activities to be based there including:
- A centre for health and wellbeing
- A youth club
- Adult education classes
- An information centre for walkers and other visitors to Wylam
- Support from community enterprises
- A community café
- Cycle proficiency training and cycle repairs
- A centre for heritage and local history
The Parish Council is a stakeholder in the project, as the Railway Museum is located in the centre, and will consider further links once the proposal is formalised.
The overriding vision for the Centre is inspired by the creation in other towns and villages elsewhere of: “Community hubs based in designated multi-purpose buildings at the centre of communities, providing safe spaces for people of all ages, so everyone, toddler, teenager to the retired can participate in education, economic and cultural life.”
The struggle to take flight
Northumberland County Council was initially responsive to the concept of a transfer of responsibilities but, not unreasonably, required a detailed feasibility study and business plan to show that the proposals are viable and sustainable. Such proposals require a structured professional approach and the action group recognised that the formulation of a robust case would need professional assistance. Funding for this assistance has not yet fully materialised and it seems that the council now feels that the window for the consideration of a finalised proposal has passed, and it may be time for the Falcon Centre to fly gracefully into extinction. Various approaches to the council, including by constituency MP Guy Opperman have not relieved these anxieties.
Fight against extinction
To stave off a loss of this irreplaceable local asset, the action group has launched an online petition to the County Council as follows:
This petition calls upon Northumberland County Council to support the efforts of the Falcon Centre Action Group (FCAG) to secure the future of the Falcon Centre as a community hub. We believe the best way to secure the Falcon Centre for the benefit of the local community would be for the centre to be run by and for the local community. The FCAG should be allowed time to develop a robust business plan in conjunction with other community partners. A future application to NCC from the FCAG for a Community Asset Transfer should be given sympathetic consideration.
While this looming tragedy is of immediate concern to Northerners local to Wylam and the surrounding area, support for the campaign from all individuals signing the petition is much appreciated. The easiest way to do this is to scan the QR code below.
For more information, please contact Steve Grinter Chair FCAG [email protected]
All enquiries are very welcome, please do get in touch.