The Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, received a warm welcome from local youngsters and residents during a tour of Red Hall in Darlington.
The visit marked the completion of the initial construction phase of a multi-million pound regeneration of Red Hall and included a tour of Red Hall Primary School.
Pupils demonstrated their cycling skills, developed on a Bikeability cycling proficiency course funded by the Healthy New Towns initiative, and took part in a litter pick around the area.
The Bishop was also invited into one of the new homes, built by Darlington Borough Council for its tenants, and viewed some of the environmental improvements in the area including a new play park and outdoor gym.
Darlington Borough Council has worked closely with local residents, community groups and partners in a bid to breathe new life into the Red Hall area which is set to be a key component of the expansion of the eastern side of the town.
So far around Â£11.5m has been invested in the regeneration programme, much of it from the Councilâ€™s Housing Revenue Account. The scheme also received Â£770,000 from the Homes and Communities Agency, Â£250,000 from the Estate Regeneration Fund and an additional Â£50,000 of Healthy New Towns funding.
Some properties were demolished to make way for 40 new family homes and apartments, designed to Lifetime Homes Standards to suit demand and modern living.
Remaining properties were also given a comprehensive refurbishment, including new double glazed windows and doors, new energy-efficient boilers and heating systems, new kitchens and bathrooms and improved insulation to make them warmer and greener.
The new play park was created, along with an outdoor gym for young people as well as adults, and improvements carried out to other open spaces to create a more welcoming environment for both residents and visitors.
The Tees Valley YMCA has also won funds from the Youth Investment Fund (Big Lottery and Office for Civil Society) to help create a wide range of youth services across Darlington, which will include a new weekly youth club â€“ Youth House â€“ to open at Red Hall Community Centre in February. The new youth club, for anyone aged 10 to 25 years, follows work with pupils at Red Hall Primary School and reflects what they wanted in the area. It will also offer additional sessions and activities during school holidays.
New benches will also be located at strategic points to create a pleasant walking route around Red Hall, helping encourage residents and visitors to take a stroll to enjoy the improved open spaces and boost their health by achieving their daily 10,000 steps target.
Bishop Paul said:
â€œI was delighted to visit Red Hall and to see some of the many activities that are going on in, and around the community.
â€œRegeneration only comes about when the whole community acts as one, and there are encouraging signs of that happening in Red Hall. I was particularly thrilled to see the close collaboration of Red Hall Primary School, the local housing team, residents and how children and young people are being so actively engaged. I look forward to following its progress in the coming months and years.â€
Councillor Andy Scott, Darlington Borough Councilâ€™s Cabinet member for Housing, said:
â€œRegeneration is about both the people and the place. Weâ€™re working hard to preserve and strengthen all that is good about life in Darlington and aim to tackle what needs to be improved to help build a better quality of life for everyone.
â€œRed Hall has always had a thriving community, but had seen a decline in demand for properties in recent years. We were determined to work with local residents and partners to help create a sustainable community again.
â€œRegeneration cannot be an overnight success â€“ it requires dedication and commitment of all those involved, particularly the local residents. However, the feedback weâ€™ve had has been excellent, the new build properties are proving popular and Red Hall is again the place to be and itâ€™s great that the Bishop was able to join us to see some of the work that has been going on here in Red Hall.â€
During his visit to Darlington, Bishop Paul also met Cllr Chris McEwan, Cabinet member for Economy and Regeneration, and the Councilâ€™s Chief Executive Ada Burns, to discuss economic development and employment issues.
Cllr McEwan commented: â€œIt was a valuable opportunity to talk through with him our ongoing mission to bring jobs and prosperity to Darlington, and in doing so making sure no one is left behind.â€
Healthy New Towns is one of ten projects launched across England in 2016. It focuses on designing housing developments that incorporate healthy living. To find out more visitÂ www.darlington.gov.uk/healthynewtowns
For more information about the new youth services in Darlington, or if you want to get involved, contact Lianne Steed at the YMCA on 01325 462452 ext 28.
Anyone interested in the new developments or any other council properties available to rent can log onto the website atÂ www.darlington.gov.uk/housing/finding-a-home/applying-for-a-council-home/Â or contact the Customer Contact Team on 01325 40533 or emailÂ email@example.com.
Photo caption – L-R:Â Bishop Paul, Cllr Ian Haszeldine and Rob Goffee, acting head of Red Hall Primary School