HISTORY enthusiasts fighting to secure a visitor centre for Colchester’s Roman chariot-racing arena have launched a public appeal for funds.

The Save the Roman Circus consortium has already received pledges totalling £15,000.

Today, it starts a publicity drive aimed at raising the rest of the £200,000 needed to buy the former sergeants’ mess it wants to use as a heritage centre.

Members had hoped Colchester Council could help secure the building. They have now decided an agreement is unlikely and have reverted to raising money to buy the building before Taylor Wimpey’s deadline of the end of January.

Historian Jess Jephcott, who is in the consortium, said: “We are inviting people to pledge what they can. One person has pledged £5,000 and we have had quite a few offers of £1,000.”

The Victorian sergeants’ mess, where the Roman Circus’ starting gates are buried, will cost about £750,000 in total.

Colchester Archaeological Trust expects to contribute half the money. It faces eviction from its base in Lexden Road and plans to secure a mortgage and relocation grant to open an office at the sergeants’ mess.

The visitor centre would be created downstairs – hopefully using lottery grants.

The other half of the building would be bought by private investors for flats.

The deadline is fast approaching but there is a chance the consortium could still put in a successful bid after the property goes on the market.

Donors should email roman colchester@aol.com to make a pledge to the consortium, which is made up of the archaeological trust, community organisation Destination Colchester and amateur archaeologists the Colchester Archaeological Group.