For those of you who have driven across the Ferrybridge to Portland and wondered what on earth they are doing to the Chesil Beach Centre, the waiting is nearly over. For nearly ten years, a wide range of organisations and individuals have been working behind the scenes to enlarge and revamp the small, but very popular visitor centre. This has been going on alongside the excellent front of house work of the Centre warden and volunteers who keep the facility open year round for those people who love Chesil bank and the Fleet Lagoon.
The building is being extended to make three ‘pods’ all of a comparable size. This will allow space for an excellent new education room, a bigger interpretation and display space and a new indoor café and restaurant. The new centre will now provide facilities for school and other groups, as well as being able to host temporary exhibitions and a range of events. There will also be a new boardwalk, which will allow much easier access to the beach, and which the army are constructing in May. If you fancy ‘owning’ your own bit of the centre, you could ‘sponsor a boardwalk plank’ for only £50 (email below for more details). The final part of the development is the café restaurant pod, and although awaiting final confirmation, it is very likely that it will be operated by local Masterchef Winner, Mat Follas, of the Wild Garlic restaurant in Beaminster. Mat is very focused on local produce and in particular the outstanding seafood available in the area.
The development has only been possible due to partnership working, notably with the new partnership between Dorset Wildlife Trust, who will be managing the centre from July onwards, and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council, who have led on the redevelopment. Other partners include Dorset County Council, the Jurassic Coast Team, the Crown Estate, Chesil Bank and the Fleet Nature Reserve, the Court Leet, and Natural England. Many of these organisations have also contributed financially, but the biggest thanks for funding must go to the Heritage Lottery Fund who have come up with nearly half of the resources needed. The Fine Family Foundation have also been extremely generous, meaning that the new centre becomes part of a family of Fine Foundation Jurassic Coast facilities at Durlston, Kimmeridge, Charmouth, Sidmouth and Beer all supported to some extent by its funds. Contributions have also been gratefully received from the Garfield Weston Charitable Foundation, Chalk and Cheese, the Jurassic Coast Trust, Portland Gas Trust and others.
Finally, the Fine Foundation Chesil Beach Centre will be fully open, café and all, in time for the Olympics, but the exhibition will initially be a temporary one looking to celebrate Dorset’s seas, very much in keeping with the Olympics theme. The permanent display will be prepared over the autumn. So come along from lunchtime onwards on the 21st of July and get a feel for what will be a fabulous new addition to the visitor facilities for the Jurassic Coast. For further information, or to ‘buy’ a plank, email Emily Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sam Rose, Jurassic Coast Team Leader