Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Roman Circus project in Colchester under threat

The people behind the Colchester’s Roman circus are having to work on an alternative plan to be able to move forward with the heritage centre envisioned for the site. The site was part of the British Army’s garrisons, which is based in Colchester.

Colchester Archaeological Trust the driving force behind the project has been seeking investors to help it buy the Sergeants mess which is the main building currently occupying the site. The plan is to convert into a tourist attraction and educational base for visitors to the ancient chariot-racing arena.

The plans for the site have are to create a three-dimensional display in the garden of the Sergeants' Mess using special viewing screens to help recreate what the gates would have looked like.

It is hoped to permanently expose under a weather protective cover the central part of the gates and construct stumps of the correct size showing the positions of the various parts of the rest of the gates.

Visitors to the site will be able to look through two screens, one inside the circus, the other outside, to get a good idea of what the original building would have looked like. The gardens according to the plans for the site will be professionally designed and planted so to create a pleasant and attractive place to visit.

The interpretation centre would include a tearoom, the profits from which would be used to make the facility free. The intention behind the plan is to create an important tourist attraction and venue which would be of economic value to the town and provide local people and visitors with an attractive facility where they could sit down, enjoy the surroundings and buy a cup of coffee to help towards the running costs.

The Trust hope the interpretation centre and the garden would act as the gateway to the circus itself, where low grassed mounds coupled with surface marking would enable visitors to walk around the footprint of the building and grasp the enormous size of the original structure.

However the plan has hit a major barrier in that it has still failed to generate enough funds in its appeal to proceed with the project. In addition to the appeal, the trust has one investor on board, Dr Georgene Wade, who will pay £200,000 to convert about a quarter of the Sergeants mess into a house.

Regardless of the shortfall, the Trust currently has £200,000 in the bank, which was raised from the public appeal, and on this bases trust bosses have decided to move forward with the plan

Director of the project Philip Crummy, stated the trust was considering ways of getting the project back on track without the £275,000 shortfall

He said: “There are some options we are exploring and we are expecting to be able to make a decision, as to what happens next, by December 10.

“We are anxious to resolve the thing, but we are having difficulty. We thank people for their patience.”

While Mr Crummy has not revealed what these options were, but admitted money was very tight, adding: “It’s all on a knife-edge.”

The old Army building, in Le Cateau Road, known as the sergeants’ mess, are wanted for the heritage centre because the starting gates of the Roman circus, discovered in 2004, are buried in is garden grounds.

Bill Hayton, who helped run the fundraising appeal, said the best option would have been to carry on collecting money. He added: “The plan at the moment only allows for the bare minimum of visitor facilities. “If the archaeological trust had kept the original fundraising team involved, we could have got the money to buy a bigger piece of the building.”

The trust was against a further fundraising campaign as it wanted investors to take on a stake in the building and share the cost of repair work.

Stephen. 2010. "Roman Circus project in Colchester under threat". ArchNews. Posted: December 1, 2010. Available online: http://www.archnews.co.uk/featured/4034-roman-circus-project-in-colchester-under-threat.html

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