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New start for former steel town; Keeping an eye on the property market where you are...

Byline: Karen Overbury

With splendid countryside on the doorstep, good commuter links and ongoing regeneration, Consett is a popular town for families. Karen Overbury reports.

A TIME traveller from 30 years ago stepping out into modernday Consett would barely recognise the town.

Once Britain's biggest steel-producing centre, Consett took many years to recover when British Steel closed its doors for the last time in 1980.

The once-proud industrial area became depressed and many people felt abandoned. But recent years have seen huge regeneration cash poured into Consett.

New industries have grown up, companies have relocated to the town and hundreds of new homes have been built as people choose to move to the area, attracted by the new feeling of pride, the convenience for commuting, good property prices and the stunning scenery of surrounding County Durham.

Steeped in history, there are ancient monuments, Listed buildings and Consett is also a conservation area.

Christ Church is the parish church of the town and stands tall in the centre. However, as well as a wealth of history, the town is also renowned for its beauty. With acres of surrounding woodland and open moors, this unspoilt setting is a haven for wildlife, while also being a great place to explore on foot.

The town centre is brimming with architectural features. The top half of the Consett Industrial and Provident Society Ltd building has not been touched since it was finished in 1899. Bertha Street is typical of the style of housing that can be found in the area, the stonefronted terraced row being reminiscent of the colliery era. However, buyers looking for more modern homes will find no shortage of new homes.

The "Caring Sharing" notice board in the town centre keeps everyone up to date with all the events.

The area has become popular thanks to not only its wide range of amenities, but also its accessibility to Newcastle, Durham and the rest of the region.

Derwentside College is close to the town centre, while leisure pursuits include Consett and District Golf Club and Belle Vue Leisure Centre.

Consett is within easy reach of the popular Derwent Walk Country Park, the Derwent Reservoir is the North East''s second largest and a haven for wildlife, ideal for walkers, anglers and windsurfers alike. The town centre is around 270m above sea level, making it only slightly lower than the town of Alston in Cumbria which is said to be the highest market town in England.

Consett owes its origins to industrial development arising from lead mining in the area, together with the development of the steel industry in the Derwent Valley, initiated by immigrant German cutlers and sword-makers who settled in the 17th Century.

During the 17th and 18th Centuries, the Derwent Valley was the cradle of the British steel industry, helped by the easy availability of coal from Tyneside, and the import of quality iron ore from Sweden via Newcastle.

However, following the invention of the Bessemer process in the 19th Century, steel could be made from British iron ore - otherwise too heavily contaminated by phosphorus - and the Derwent Valley''s geographical advantage was lost, allowing Sheffield to become the leading centre of the British steel industry.

Several pubs have at least taken names that reflect the town''s steelmaking past - The Company Row and The Smelter's Arms.

Project Genesis is a charitable trust set up almost 20 years ago to help the regeneration of Consett. Morris Muter, managing director of Dysart Developments and the driving force behind Project Genesis, has a passion for the town. "Consett has been completely transformed and the infrastructure of the town is now very strong," he said.

"Project Genesis has brought in jobs, retail choice and residential opportunities.

Houses offer much better value in Consett than the same type of properties just 10 miles away."

Small and medium-sized businesses now provide most jobs in the area. Phileas Fogg Company (Co Durham), with its factory on the town''s Number One Industrial Estate, were famous for a few years from 1988 for their snack food Made in Medomsley Road, Consett television adverts. The company is now owned by KP Snacks as part of United Biscuits. Derwentside College moved to a new campus at Berry Edge in 2002 and national retailers have moved into Hermiston Retail Park.

The town is home to The Empire, one of County Durham''s oldest theatres. Recently refurbished, the theatre stages variety acts, plays and a Christmas pantomime. It screens blockbuster films at times when there are no live performances.

Famous sons of Consett include the comedian Rowan Atkinson, born in the town in 1955; opera singer Graeme Danby, born in 1962 and actor Alun Armstrong, born at nearby Annfield Plain in 1946.

Carol Herdman, of the Consett branch of Halifax estate agents, said: "The town has a rich heritage and it's good to see the improvements and progress.

"Consett was also the town that made the steel for Blackpool Tower and Britain''s most famous nuclear submarines. It has lovely people and it's good that they can take a pride in the town once again."

Julie Thompson, who also works in the Consett branch, said: "There is a mix of old and new properties, and the town of Consett has undergone a wide range of new developments over the past few years."


REJUVENATED - Clockwise from top left, Consett High Street, sculpture, scenery and the parish church of Christ Church OPEN SPACES - A Bandstand in Consett, County Durham YK TRADITIONAL - A typical street of stone-built houses in Consett
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 26, 2009
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