BRITAIN's earliest written archives are a step closer to coming home to the North East, thanks to funding of £1.8m from regional development agency One North East.
The Vindolanda Writing Tablets are one of the most important and well preserved collections of Roman heritage in the world and are currently held at the British Museum in London. The Single Programme investment, through Northumberland County Council, via One North East, will allow the Vindolanda Trust to bring the tablets, on loan, back to the region.
The tablets were first found at Vindolanda, near Hexham, in the 1970s and represent stories from people who lived and worked on the Wall over 2,000 years ago, including invitations to birthday parties, letters home and details of military life.
The vast collection of tablets will be returned to Vindolanda for a range of themed exhibitions as part of a rolling programme of displays.
The funding will help provide new facilities to house these delicate
Visitors to the site will also be able to access "a behind the scenes" viewing area of the annual excavation activity at the site giving them the opportunity to engage with volunteers working on finds from the archaeological site.
An extra 20,000 visitors are expected to the Wall by 2012 as a result of the new exhibitions and facilities, generating an estimated 4.2m in visitor spend and supporting 63 direct jobs.
Stacy Hall, Director of Communications & Tourism at One North East said: "Hadrian's Wall is one of the most significant Roman sites in the world and the Vindolanda Tablets are a vital part of the story of this exciting era in British history.
"This funding will now ensure that future generations of visitors will be able to view these internationally important documents in the region where they were first written, giving them an enhanced insight into life during Roman times.
"The new facilities and exhibitions will undoubtedly improve the visitor experience at Hadrian's Wall and will add to the diverse range of things to see in do in North East England."
An Archaeo-education centre will also be developed to host workshops and events as well as on-site accommodation for volunteers. Many of Vindolanda and The Roman Army Museum's collections will also go on public display for the first time as part of the project, which is expected to be complete by Spring 2011.
The Vindolanda Trust is also awaiting news on a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for almost 4m to help fund the project. News on this bid is expected later this year.
Patricia Birley, Director of the Vindolanda Trust said: "We are absolutely delighted with the news that the One North East funding has been approved. This will substantially strengthen our bid to HLF submitted recently.
"We have put forward an inspiring and exciting development proposal that will invigorate and transform our two museums at Vindolanda and The Roman Army Museum.
"We cannot wait to start this wonderful project which will encourage
more visits to the area and provide even more regional and local heritage employment opportunities.
"We are extremely grateful to One North East for this support, to Northumberland Strategic Partnership for their invaluable contribution to the application process and to Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd for their involvement and enthusiasm for this project."
Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd, said: "It has been fantastic to have been able to support the development of these exciting plans got Vindolanda.
"The transformation at Vindolanda will be the first manifestation of the future vision of the Hadrian's Wall World Heritage site, the North West frontier of the Roman Empire.
"It is nationally important that we are able to celebrate the home of Britain's earliest handwriting here at Vindolanda in the North East."