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Gary reaches for the stars

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Published on 13 July 2017

Gary Fildes, Director of Kielder Observatory
Gary Fildes, Director of Kielder Observatory

The man whose vision made the North East an internationally lauded centre for astronomy has been recognised by the University.

Gary Fildes is Director of the Kielder Observatory. He received an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Sunderland today (Thursday, 13 July) in recognition of his outstanding contribution to making astronomy and space science accessible to a wider audience.

He said: “It’s an honour to be recognised by my hometown university, and to be in the Stadium of Light makes the occasion even more special for me. I’m not religious, but this is my church where I come to worship every other Saturday!

“The most important part of today for me was seeing all those graduates and their happy faces beaming from the stands.  They’ve worked so hard to get here and now they’re off into the world to do their own thing.

“I think it’s important to understand that the world can be what you want it to be and it starts with change in yourself. That’s why I dedicated my life to science, it revolutionised the way I thought, and I would advise any graduate to keep your chin up and always just do your best in life.”

Gary Fildes caught the astronomy bug age only 9, playing with his older brother’s telescope in the back garden of their home in Grindon, Sunderland, on Christmas Day 1974. This lifelong passion became the driving force behind the eventual creation of the world-renowned Kielder Observatory.

Gary went on to bring up his family, and turned to a more practical career, bricklaying, but he never lost his passion for the stars, and in 2002 joined the SAS – the Sunderland Astronomy Society. Armed with enthusiasm and practical skills, and their motto “Who Stares Win” they built a small observatory in the Washington Wetlands Centre. 

Almost immediately, spurred on by the enthusiasm of Kielder Forest park authorities, Gary began fundraising for a new observatory. His dream was realised in 2008, and now Kielder Observatory welcomes thousands of visitors a year to our region.

Kielder Observatory welcomes over 20,000 visitors per year, making it one of Northumberland’s top tourist attractions.

The University of Sunderland’s Graduation Ceremonies are estimated to bring £1 million annually to the region and are attended by over 11,000 students, family, friends and supporters.