Maryport's unique Roman site will be the focus of attention during the summer, thanks to a project planning grant of £50,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), it was announced today (Tuesday).

The award, together with a matching grant from Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd, will enable the Senhouse Museum Trust, working with the landowners, Mr and Mrs Harold Messenger, to develop plans to undertake further archaeological research and develop new visitor facilities on the site.

The HLF money is for a Project Planning Grant to undertake important studies for the proposals. Three of these are an Audience Development Plan, a Conservation Management Plan and an Access Plan, all of which will be undertaken by Atkins Heritage of Leeds. The fourth is a Research Framework which will be undertaken by York Archaeological Trust.

Excavations by the Maryport and District Archaeological Society in 2005 indicated that Maryport may contain not only one of the largest but also one of the oldest Roman forts on the northern frontier of the Empire.

Roman soldiers probably called Maryport home for more than 300 years. And, as geophysical surveys commissioned by the Museum Trust found, not only soldiers! An extensive civil settlement, which has never been properly investigated, lies under the fields to the north of the fort. Sculpture and inscriptions found in these fields form the core of the collection on display in the Senhouse Roman Museum - but much more may wait to be discovered.

The project is an important component of plans for the regeneration of West Cumbria and for development of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site, which stretches from the Rhine to the Irish Sea. Development of the Maryport site will establish a significant public asset of lasting value, creating a huge opportunity for the town and the region in terms of tourism, opportunities for community and volunteer involvement and education.

Commenting on the award, Peter Greggains, Chairman of the Senhouse Museum Trust, said: "The award of this grant represents welcome recognition by the Heritage Lottery Fund of the importance of Roman Maryport and of the Netherhall Collection. These studies will show us how we can strengthen our links with the rest of the World Heritage Site and bring more visitors to West Cumbria."

Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd, said: "The future developments at Roman Maryport represent one of the most exciting opportunities along the line of the World Heritage Site to engage with all kinds of audiences, including local communities, visitors and archaeologists. The project is also a crucial step in raising awareness of the extent of the Roman frontier and its presence in West Cumbria, and in reinforcing perceptions of the scale and extent of the site across the north of England."

Explaining the importance of the award, Tony Jones, HLF regional manager for the North West, said: "This project is an important step towards revealing the hidden stories of this historic area. It will also lay the foundations for exciting plans to bring history to life for visitors to explore."