THE Gazette is today throwing its weight behind the campaign to get a heritage centre for Colchester’s Roman circus.

Archaeologists made headlines around the world when they discovered Britain’s only known Roman chariot racing arena was buried near Abbey Field in 2004.

The remains had to be covered over again to stop them decaying and the historic site is now in danger of becoming just an anonymous patch of grass in the middle of a housing estate.

A public body has yet to come up with the funds needed to buy the site and turn this unique find into an attraction for visitors.

But volunteer campaigners have raised tens of thousands of pounds towards converting an old military building, which has the circus starting gates buried in its garden, into a heritage centre.

The Gazette is today asking developer Taylor Wimpey to extend the January 31 deadline by which the campaigners are supposed to find £750,000 to buy the site.

With just 19 days to go, we are calling on our own Roman legion of loyal readers to help by pledging whatever they can afford.

Wendy Bailey, chairman of community group, Destination Colchester, one of the campaign’s main backers, welcomed the news the Gazette was getting on board.

She said: “It is absolutely brilliant the local paper is championing our cause. Everyone in Colchester wants this and if we all work together, we can make it happen.”

Colchester MP Bob Russell added: “I congratulate the Gazette for getting involved. This is exactly what a community newspaper should be doing.

“The head of steam got up now is fantastic and we must now all work together to secure it. This is our one chance to get it.”

The circus campaign was first started before Christmas. The National Lottery may give a grant to equip the heritage centre but rejected a bid for cash to buy it.

Colchester Council says it has no spare money. Its culture spokesman, Paul Smith, said the council could not “sign a blank cheque”.

He fears if the council gave any money and lottery officials then refused to give a grant, the borough could end up paying even more, simply to avoid seeing its original investment come to nothing.

Taylor Wimpey, which acquired the site when it bought former Colchester Garrison land for homes, said it “remained in dialogue” with Colchester Archaeological Trust, which would act as the official buyer.

Spokesman Dan Pole said: “Taylor Wimpey welcomes this public endeavour to help Colchester Archaeological Trust purchase the land, and will continue to work closely with the trust.”