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by David McGlade, Chairman and Trustee

The Offa’s Dyke Association (ODA) turns 50 in 2019. A membership-based charity the ODA operates a visitor centre complete with interpretive displays, tea room and a library, named after Frank Noble, the ODA’s founder. It also publishes a full colour newsletter three times year, an annual accommodation guide to the National Trail, organises talks and walks and will soon have a new website rebuilt entirely from scratch.

The classic view of Offa's Dyke, curving across Llanfair Hill in south Shropshire © jimsaunders.co.uk

The classic view of Offa’s Dyke, curving across Llanfair Hill, South  Shropshire     © jimsaunders.co.uk.

In 2016 the ODA launched its own Conservation Fund with the simple aim of financially assisting maintenance works and projects that promote the long-term conservation of Offa’s Dyke, other scheduled and non-scheduled archaeological features along the line of the National Trail, also areas with a nature conservation interest. Anyone, for example, a farmer or a local authority, can apply to the fund as long as the proposed works have a long-term conservation aim and are deliverable. The first grant was awarded to Shropshire Council towards the cost of a small drainage scheme in the Shropshire Hills AONB designed to reduce walker and livestock pressure. The ODA has since agreed in principle to provide a matching funding contribution for a conservation scheme designed by the National Trail Officer for works to the Dyke and Trail in the Wye Valley near to the Devil’s Pulpit.

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Shropshire County Council conservation works to the Dyke and National Trail at a site called ‘Scotland’ in the Shropshire Hills AONB to rectify a drainage issue. (Photo copyright Andrew Lipa, Shropshire County Council.

Shropshire County Council conservation works to the Dyke and National Trail at a site called ‘Scotland’ in the Shropshire Hills AONB to rectify a drainage issue. (Photo copyright Andrew Lipa, Shropshire County Council.

The ODA sees the Conservation Fund as being crucial to its own future survival. It meets perfectly its charitable aim and establishes a direct link between an individual membership subscription and the wellbeing of the monument. Trail walkers, other visitors and locals alike will hopefully see this as a tangible benefit of joining the ODA. The fund’s most significant involvement to date is an on-going collaboration with Cadw and Historic England towards a strategic conservation management plan approach for the full length of the Dyke. As an equal partner in this project the ODA’s status as a serious conservation focused organisation in both countries is firmly established.

Not everything in the past two years, however, has been plain sailing for the ODA. The writing had been on the wall for some time but 12 months ago the Association was hit with the news that its long-standing contract with Powys County Council to provide tourism information functions at the Offa’s Dyke Centre would cease at the end of 2016. The financial realities of the day meant that the Offa’s Dyke Centre, together with all of Powys’ other community supported Tourism Information Centres, would lose their funding. This only speeded up the root and branch review of every activity undertaken by both the charity and within the Offa’s Dyke Centre with the aim of making good the loss of direct funding support. The tea room, library/second meeting room, improved newsletter, plans for the website, improved financial and management systems, and the conservation fund, are facets of a strategy that is starting to pay off.

View of the display in the Offa’s Dyke Centre (Photo copyright Jim Saunders).

View of the display in the Offa’s Dyke Centre (Photo copyright Jim Saunders).

The ODA hopes to broaden its appeal and give potential members more reasons to join the Association, pay a visit to the Centre to view the interpretive display, buy a souvenir or a coffee and cake, browse the library, (it has an unrivalled collection of books on the Dyke and Welsh Marches), hire a meeting room or perhaps make a donation. Offers of help at the Offa’s Dyke Centre are always welcome. We are likewise always on the lookout for contributors willing to write original content for the newsletter and website and also currently need people with skills in marketing, fundraising, as well as website management. The ODA is now financially on its own but it will strive to both maintain its existing functions at the ODC as well as be innovative and start conversations with anyone willing to collaborate.

The Association’s AGM is always a highlight of the year and 2017 is no exception. The guest speaker is Pieta Greaves, Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Coordinator for Birmingham Museums Trust who is talking about ‘The Conservation and Research of the Staffordshire Hoard’. (Talk at 4pm, 29th April 2017. Free to ODA members, £3 to non-members).

For membership information, opening hours, room hire, library, conservation fund, tickets to AGM talk: contact the Offa’s Dyke Centre on 01547 528753. Email: oda@offasdyke.org.uk  Website: www.offasdyke.org.uk

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