Campaigners have reiterated their calls for the ashes of soldiers in the grounds of the former DLI Museum to be protected. 

Construction work has started at the former Durham Light Infantry (DLI) Museum in Durham City, after plans for the site’s renovation were approved early last year. 

Trees are being felled at the Aykley Heads site, where the ashes are scattered and buried, but campaigners say the area looks like a “quagmire” and likened Durham County Council’s handling of the sensitive site to “vandalism”. 

Diane Inglis, from the Faithful Durham’s group, told of her horror when she visited at the weekend.

She said: “It’s an absolute desecration of the place. We understood they wanted to take trees out, but they said it would be done respectfully. We went along and where the stone with 12 Victoria Cross holders was located it is just like a quagmire. 

“There's loads of tyre marks, it just looks like a bog - and that’s the main area where the ashes are scattered. It’s absolute vandalism.”

The building, which previously housed the collection of historic DLI artefacts, closed in 2016 after falling into a state of disrepair. Developers have outlined plans for its refurbishment including a new exhibition centre, gallery and a cafe. Expected to attract between 60,000 and 150,000 visitors a year, the venue will include a dedicated space to display key objects from the DLI Collection.

A new reflective garden area will be created, where the ashes will be relaid.

Campaigners have vowed to scrutinise the rest of the renovation work to ensure the council respects the area.

Diane added: “We are in touch with one of the families whose dad’s ashes were scattered here and if I sent them the photos of the site now it would break their heart.”

The council said the area where the ashes are scattered is currently taped off from where the trees are being felled and is out of bounds for construction workers. 

The whole DLI collection will be stored at The Story, a new cultural venue at Mount Oswald, and will be placed alongside the DLI Archive for the first time since 1998. 

The Northern Echo:

The campaign group’s concerns were echoed by councillors also following the site’s progress.

Speaking at a council meeting last week, former veteran cllr David McKenna said: “I am very concerned at the idea of diggers and industrial equipment cutting through the turf where ashes of these Durham warriors have been laid to rest. 

“This practice does not honour those who served the regiment. I do not want the lasting resting place of those that served to be disturbed. I ask the cabinet to have the area consecrated at the earliest opportunity.”

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The Northern Echo: Responding to the campaign groups concerns, Cllr Elizabeth Scott, cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “We are currently carrying out essential works to remove some existing trees and shrubs to prepare the site ahead of construction commencing in the coming months.

“We know the grounds have a strong historical and personal significance to many people. Before the tree removal works began, our contractors were made aware of the ashes that were scattered across the grassed area in front of the pond.

"The tree felling area has been taped off and any trees felled are done so away from where ashes were scattered. Furthermore, no vehicles or equipment will occupy or operate through this sensitive area. Before construction works commence, the topsoil from the site will be removed, preserved, and carefully re-laid in the new reflective garden area.

“When complete, the new extended and refurbished building will bring the DLI Museum and Art Gallery back into use as a cultural community asset and visitor destination. It will include a dedicated space to display key objects from the DLI collection.”