Dartmouth Visitor Centre publish ambitious development plans

Dartmouth Visitor Centre has unveiled an ambitious extension project that will bring together aspects of the town’s history and heritage in a building offering so much more for future generations.

The exciting proposal will include display and exhibition space for Mayflower 400, including the M400 replica ship currently under construction, which will form a centrepiece of the project.

The plan will also enhance the visitor experience to the Newcomen Engine with the chance to open up key views from surrounding streets of the world famous working atmospheric steam engine.

A new glazed facade will provide a new entrance from the existing steps and paths from Royal Avenue Gardens.

The roof form – a key feature with a bronze tone – takes on a sail shape, supported on a mast structure that is an extension of the replica model.

The extension project was showcased at the launch of the 2019 Discover Dartmouth guide at the Flavel attended by more than 50 subscribers, volunteers and supporters.

Among them were members of Dartmouth Town Council which recently took ownership of the visitor centre as part of an assets transfer from South Hams District Council.

DVC manager Karen Perrow said:  “A key part of our tourism growth strategy is to create compelling new reasons for people to come to Dartmouth again and again.

“This extension proposal is modern and simple in form but we believe expressive with references to engineering, mechanical and nautical in order to maintain a focus on Dartmouth’s heritage.

“We have been working closely with Adam Benns from BBH Architects and it is hoped these designs will soon form the basis of a planning application to go before South Hams Council.

“Of course if the project is to go ahead we must embark on a major fund raising campaign to enable building work to be completed in time for the Mayflower celebrations of 2020.

“As well as exploring grant and lottery options we will be seeking support from the local community for what we believe is a fantastic opportunity for Dartmouth for years to come.”

Jeff Cooper, from We Make Magazines, said that 40,000 guides and maps had been printed this year which would be distributed around Dartmouth and the surrounding area, including outlets up the M5 corridor.

He said all were in the more popular and compact  A5 format and businesses had been invited to submit some free editorial.  There was also a new map.

Sarah Stride, from Visit South Devon, said interest in the Discover Dartmouth website was outstanding for the size of the town.

She said the 2018 website had seen 190,000 annual visits, an increase of four per cent on 2017.  The top home page received 52,221 visits alone.

The blog section saw a 68 per cent increase in traffic .

Social media saw 32 per cent growth in 2018.  Twitter clocked up  3,000 more followers – an increase of 11 per cent – and Facebook 5,500 more – an 11 per cent increase.  By far the largest was Instagram which saw 3,200 hits – a massive 160 per cent increase.

Sarah said projects for 2019 included the formation of food and drink and arts and culture town trails along with a website upgrade with a video feature and new photography.

Earlier, Karen had said that while visitor information centres were in decline across the country, Dartmouth had held on.

She said the centre’s partnership with We Make Magazines who produce the guide and website provider Visit South Devon was going from strength to strength.

In 2018, more than 74,000 visitors came through the doors of the visitor centre –  some 26,000 people more than the previous year – an increase in footfall of 30 per cent – she said.

The centre remained open six days a week throughout the year thanks to its team of around a dozen volunteers and the centre’s cruise ship ambassadors group welcomed ten visiting cruise ships to Dartmouth last year.

“While it is easy to think this will continue, it is worth remembering that given the economic value of tourism, local councils and the community should recognise what role we play in the overall success of the town,” added Karen.

“There is now no statutory requirement on local authorities, who face difficult budget decisions themselves, to pay for the running of visitor centres.

“We are extremely fortunate in Dartmouth that our own town council recognises the work we do and the value we bring to the town.  Not only has it underwritten us but a few months ago took ownership of our building, which we believe will greatly strengthen our position.”

One way the community can support the centre is to take part in its lottery project which it launched earlier this year with Sea Moor Lottery.  Tickets cost just £1 per week and 50 per cent of tickets sold from its page go to the DVC.  Not only that, there is the chance to win prizes of up to £25,000 as well as support local causes.

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