I have to start this page by mentioning 2 very important people.
When the whole astro scene started at Kielder, it was not because of the introduction of the new facility. Firstly a man whom I knew reasonably well (the late) David Sinden, of Sinden Optical Co, had for some time been involved with events held around Kielder. David would volunteer his spare time to come to the area and talk about astronomy . He was of course involved in many optical applications during his time at Grubb Parsons in Newcastle .This love for his hobby and profession helped introduce many people into this inspiring of sciences.
Secondly there was a great friend of ours (the late) Don Smith. Don sadly also passed away recently. Don used to teach astronomy locally and was often seen with his mobile planetarium shows. Don more than most propelled astronomy to a new level in the Kielder area by his friendly and willing personality and was a keen supporter of the new facility.
When I was brought to the area in 2000 I was amazed at the clarity of the skies, the light pollution free vistas were astounding to me. It was here that I met Pippa Kirkham, she was an employee of the FC and was charged with promoting the ever growing "astro tourism "profile that was developing. It was here that I was asked to start and host the popular "nightwatch" events held at the castle every autumn. The publics support for this event was incredible , over 100 people would regularly attend, stood in the shadows of the majestic Kielder castle we would huddle together and cast our eyes sky ward and enjoy the panoramas of our galaxy. These events quickly snowballed into regular meetings.
It was at this stage that I had been thinking of staging our "star camp" events. Aimed at amateur astronomers it was a gathering of like minded people who would camp out under the stars and share astro stories over a beer.The astronomers loved it and have helped establish Kielder Star Camp as one of the worlds top ten astro parties, no mean feat, helped of course by the pristine skies.
All of this helped give the astro profile impetus. It was here that I thought about trying to build an observatory in Kielder. I had managed to secure a 3m hemispherical dome, covered in slime and moss! but even then I could not secure the funding to finish off the job. Don was working hard with David Sinden on a scope that had been donated, trying in vain to renovate the instrument, all on a shoestring. It was around this time that I was introduced to Peter Sharpe, peter is the curator for the art and architecture project in Kielder under the auspices of the Kielder partnership. Peter thought that an observatory in principle could be an attractive addition to their portfolio of attractions. We started with a meeting in a pub outside of Derwent side on the A68. It was very encouraging to hear someone who shared my determination to get the observatory built. Peters concept of the project was to launch a competition amongst architects to design an observatory that would compliment the Kielder land and sky scape. As time wore on the brief was sent out and we formed a steering group aimed at providing the architecture schemes with the information we felt was essential in delivering a functioning observatory. Well we received over 225 entries from every corner of the planet, some were incredible others not so, but we had the onerous task of carefully filtering through them all and drawing up a shortlist of entries. When we finally shortlisted 6 entries we then had to interview them all and get a feel for their grasp of the concept. The winner was Charles Barclay architects from London. Charles and his team done an absolutely splendid job, and as you can see the rest is history.
We felt it necessary to form an astronomical society based around the facility, KOAS was born. An intrepid group of volunteers whose commitment to the project certainly guaranteed its success.
Every event that has been held at the observatory has been ran by volunteers, giving up there spare time to tell the story of astronomy. In time it is my intention to write a book around the facility and its effect on the people who use it and visit it past and present mentioning the profound effect it has had on many people.
Gary Fildes FRAS