• Ambitious plans for counties towns and villages

    Ambitious plans for counties towns and villages

    Durham County Council is continuing to work with partners to help regenerate towns and villages across the county. Through its ambitious £25 million Towns and Villages Investment Plan, the council is working to improve communities, supporting retail businesses, helping to boost footfall, creating more and better jobs, and enhancing the county as a whole.

    Supporting businesses in County Durham

    A range of retail business support is available, from accessing funding through grants and loans to help in finding the right property, as well as offering free retail training sessions for businesses to boost their knowledge and skills. Recent sessions have covered maximising the use of social media and connecting digitally with customers, digital marketing to window dressing, customer service, food safety, and emergency first aid at work.

    The Targeted Business Improvement (TBI) funding scheme offers grants to enable eligible applicants to improve the appearance of their shop fronts. This includes projects bringing empty units back into use as well as helping newly established businesses improve their premises.  In areas with high rates of vacancy, we also offer internal grant support as part of the targeted package.

    A Property Reuse & Conversion Interest-Free Loan is available to support the reuse of commercial buildings whose condition may be contributing to an area’s decline. Loans have been granted for retail and residential space with specialist support being provided for the development of food and beverage outlets.

    To increase the vibrancy of the county’s towns and villages temporary uses for empty retail properties are a key priority.  Support and funding is available with the aim of encouraging the development of shared retail spaces whilst also supporting temporary retail or hospitality/leisure.  Building on the already established events programme, there will be a focus on driving increased footfall into the county’s towns and villages, to link with programmes of investment and retail support, countywide.

    In addition, the Seaham Townscape Heritage Programme with funding from the National Heritage Lottery Fund aims to breathe fresh life into Seaham’s historic town centre, regenerating historic commercial buildings in the Church Street area of the town and supporting conversion and reuse.

    Bishop Auckland is also benefitting from the Future High Streets programme with a specific Property Reuse Fund which is supporting new and existing businesses to redevelop properties or expand into vacant upper floors and bring more non-retail uses to the town, such as visitor accommodation.

    By reducing vacancy rates and bringing buildings back into use with a more diverse and modern retail, hospitality and accommodation offer.

    Budgets combined across all programmes total £4.3m

    Investment to support business is aimed at helping to bring significant economic benefits to County Durham towns by attracting visitors who will want to stay longer, leading to higher levels of spend during visits. Data from Visit County Durham suggests that a day visitor to the Durham Dales spends £22 whilst an overnight visitor spends £208. By encouraging businesses and investors to convert vacant buildings or upper floors into accommodation, there will be a greater economic boost as a result of the increased levels of spend.

    Since April 2022 Durham County Council have:

    • Engaged with 246 businesses
    • 72 retailers have applied or are applying for support through our Targeted Business Improvement scheme
    • Created 18 new businesses and brought 19 properties back into use
    • Created 85 new jobs
    • Safeguarded 134 jobs
    • Attracted almost £550,000 additional private sector investment into County Durham retail and leisure businesses
    • Over £500,000 paid through grants
    • Works currently underway will create a further 71 jobs and attract £2,100,000 of private investment through the award of grants totalling £1,250,000

    Work to encourage people back to the high street has also included physical improvements such as new paving, seating, landscaping, and events space to encourage activities, and specialist market events, with the addition of bespoke event lighting in some towns.

    WI-FI

    The introduction of free wifi into town centers is also expected to help make them more vibrant and attractive place for citizens, visitors, businesses and shoppers which in turn increase footfall and help local businesses thrive and grow.

    Free public Wi-Fi has been introduced in Barnard Castle, Bishop Auckland, Stanley, Seaham and Chester-le-Street.  The primary goal for the council is to future-proof its Digital Infrastructure, understand visitor demographics along with footfall data as well having the ability to automatically engage in real-time.

    Having an understanding of the daily, weekly, and monthly footfall patterns is important to identify trends in how often people visit.  Understanding these patterns can help businesses plan accordingly. For example, if there is an increase in footfall traffic after 5pm, then they may choose to open longer or hire additional staff for those peak periods. Conversely, if there is a decrease in retail footfall traffic during off-peak hours, offering special discounts or events could help draw more people in during quieter times.

    Events have welcomed everyone back to the high streets

    A programme of activities and events has been taking place across County Durham funded through the Council and building on the touring street festivals funded via Government’s Welcome Back Fund. Crowds have enjoyed free circus performances and workshops, street entertainers, craft workshops and face painting, families have also taken part in a game of crazy golf and dared to scale a climbing wall. Further free family events and activities are planned with the return of the Bishop Auckland Food Festival and Seaham Food Festival helping attract more visitors to town centres, boost footfall and generate investment in our towns.

    Loans and investment bring vibrancy back to towns and villages

    Targeted Business Improvement Schemes and Interest Free Loans have helped bring unused and underused premises back to life in towns and villages across the county.

    Exciting Projects happening in County Durham’s towns and villages

    Dalton Old Pump House, Dalton-le-Dale

    This imposing Grade II listed building had remained virtually untouched since the Second World War but has now been restored and refurbished. The bespoke venue now offers corporate events and weddings, blending the building’s stunning Victorian architecture with the glamour of chandeliers and polished concrete floors. The venture has created 15 new jobs, brought a vacant building back into use and is helping to support the local economy.

    Peggotys and Malin & Mac, Wolsingham

    Gary Cassidy, owner of Peggotys café-bakery, wanted to subdivide his existing property and diversify with the opening of a new farm shop. This created a second retail unit which allowed a bespoke giftware to move to the premises. The Council helped fund improvements to the interior and exterior of both properties.

    Church Street, Seaham

    Situated in Seaham’s Church Street, the building has been transformed with an attractive facade in keeping with the building’s heritage. The shopfronts have been redesigned, using historical images as reference. The shop’s windows were replaced with traditional materials and detailing, and the masonry was cleaned and re-pointed. The side elevation was redecorated, and new hand-painted signage was installed, creating an attractive gateway to the town’s main shopping street.

    Find out more about what Durham County Council are doing to regenerate the counties towns and villages here: Towns and Villages