Next Stop: Hopetown Darlington
A brand-new rail heritage visitor attraction is on track to open in Darlington next summer, ahead of the bicentenary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway (S&DR) in 2025.
Hopetown Darlington will encompass both purpose-built and heritage buildings – including the former Head of Steam Museum – into a major family attraction which is expected to draw in over 300,000 visits per year, including 80,000 visitors from outside of the local area.
With its reference to the historic Hope Town Foundry and Hopetown Carriage Works, the attraction’s name celebrates the rich rail heritage of Darlington’s Northgate area.
Spanning 323,000 square feet, or 7.5 acres, the site will feature a £600,000 train-themed adventure playpark, sponsored by Homes by Esh and designed and built by specialists CAP.co following consultation with local schools including Reid Street Primary School and Beaumont Hill Academy.
A £3.6 million investment into the interpretation of Darlington’s internationally-significant railway heritage heralds the 200th anniversary of the S&DR in 2025. The site also includes a new exhibition hall, housed within the restored Carriage Works and sponsored by Darlington Building Society, which will showcase a series of travelling exhibitions. A state-of-the-art 4D virtual reality time travel ride will take visitors on a journey through past, present and future. Also within the Carriage Works will be a community hub, The Stores, encouraging visitors to engage with the museum’s collections and add to their context through community-led exhibitions and events. The Store is sponsored by Bussey & Armstrong.
This £35 million scheme is funded by Darlington Borough Council, Tees Valley Combined Authority, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England, Historic England, and Rail Heritage Trust.
Amongst the onsite partners is the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, which is already occupying the new custom-built Darlington Locomotive Works. Visitors to Hopetown Darlington will be able to visit the Trust’s new premises and watch from a viewing platform as the Trust’s volunteers and staff carry out the maintenance and construction of steam locomotives.
Also relocated as part of Hopetown Darlington is Darlington Railway Preservation Society and North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group, who have moved into the newly restored 1861 shed.
A new car park located below the historic Skerne Bridge will be accessed from John Street and will have space for more than 200 vehicles, including spaces for disabled parking and electric charging points.
Councillor Libby McCollom, Cabinet Members for Local Services, said:
“The level of investment that has been made in this site is really something to celebrate. Darlington is known around the world for the part we played in global history, and now we are also placing ourselves on the map as a town that offers a major family visitor attraction. Hopetown Darlington will draw in tens of thousands of visitors to our town each year and create hundreds of jobs, as well as bringing footfall to local shops and businesses. With a playground and blockbuster special exhibitions as well as a state-of-the-art reimagining of how the permanent collection is displayed, it is going to be a brilliant asset for our town and our region.”