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Having played a central role in the industrial development of the city, Newcastle's dynamic Ouseburn area now finds itself in the vanguard of the movement bringing cultural recognition and acclaim to the region, as Louise Brown discovers
Those responsible for the regeneration of the Ouseburn area of Newcastle are in the process of transforming what, metaphorically speaking, was in the nature of a sows ear into something rather more special.
The development, still in its embryonic phase, has seen decay - the product of decades of neglect - replaced by vibrancy and dynamism as new businesses, housing developments and social and leisure facilities have been attracted to the area.
Architects, making sympathetic use of the large, imposing, handsome buildings which testify to the Ouseburns commercial and industrial past, are re-shaping the landscape in a manner which respects and celebrates the integrity and heritage of the area to which the planning brief impressively gestures.
Taking its name from the river that runs through Jesmond Dene and into the lower valley before exiting into the Tyne, the Ouseburn was once the focal point of Newcastles industrial revolution, the industrial development of the valley itself beginning in the 17th Century with the establishment of glasshouses and mills.
By the end of the 18th Century the population of the valley had grown with the expansion of industrial and commercial activity in areas such as shipbuilding, masonry and shoemaking. Lead works and iron foundries were established in the 19th Century, marking the development of the Ouseburn as a centre for heavy industry.
Throughout the 19th Century the area continued to develop with the construction of the of the Ouseburn viaduct as part of the Newcastle - North Shields Railway, followed by the Byker Bridge, Ouseburn Bridge and Glasshouse Bridge.
Sadly, by the 20th Century much of the heavy industry was in terminal decline, with resulting deterioration in the infrastructure it created, and the area changed from a crowded industrial quarter to a neglected, sparsely populated enclave. The area remained a largely derelict site until the1980s when the process of regeneration commenced.
Its gloomy industrial association belies the fact that Ouseburn is now a fresh, vibrant and trendy area of Newcastle. Regeneration has produced a pocket of cultural treasures emerging from the shadows of the impressive bridges which preside over and remind of the areas industrial heritage.
The area has changed a great deal over the years, said Peter Kay, Chief Officer of the Ouseburn Trust, a private regeneration charity which, in partnership with the local authority, initiated the re-development of the area. The change, he added, was due to a joint community approach. We have a great volunteer programme and arts and culture business sector which all begin to interlink to create a strong organisation.
The area caters for all tastes and generations, with the Cluny, a popular bar, eatery and venue promoting contemporary music, Seven Stories, a gallery and archive celebrating childrens books, and Ouseburn farm, a working entity with environmental visitor centre.
The Ouseburn, somewhat improbably, even has a village green, aesthetically attractive and an amenity much used when the weather suits, but also reflecting the community spirit and inner-city pride which are much in evidence.
Over recent years the Ouseburn Valley has sculpted its own identity as a focal point for local art and creative activity, mixing the cutting edge with the surreal, a fusion which finds impressive expression in the company Recycle Your Furniture. Proclaiming an eco-friendly recycle and re-use ethos, Recycle Your Furniture lovingly and creatively restores pieces of furniture otherwise bound for the refuse tip, using refunk your junk techniques, of which owner Jonathan Colwell speaks.
Explaining what attracted him to the area, Jonathan said: Its a fantastic up and coming area with a good mix of the rough with the smooth and one of the main centres of arts within Newcastle. Based under the archways, the studio space has an attraction you just wont find on the high streets, keeping the venue in the feel of the surroundings.
The Ouseburns artistic identity is the product of a collection of innovative galleries and studios which support and promote local craft. With its reputation for showcasing both emerging talent and established artists, The Biscuit Factory, located on Stoddart Street and recognised as the Uks largest commercial art gallery, is a key player in this community.
The Ouseburn is a veritable cornucopia of vibrant artistic and cultural activity with a community of artisans and creative businesses working together to present events and festivals, remarked manager Rachel Brown, adding that, the Ouseburn has a legitimate and credible part to play in the cultural renaissance of the city, forming a dynamic and
accessible synergy between city centre spaces such as The Laing and The Baltic at the Quayside. Its the constant generation of fresh ideas and stimulating projects within the Ouseburn that inspires and intrigues and, what I believe, provides a tangible pulse to this vibrant area.
The physical regeneration of the Ouseburn has injected new life into the areas stunning architectural landscape. The prestigious Hotel Du Vin chain recognised the quality and potential of the area, taking and transforming what was previously the Tyne Tees Steam Shipping Company building into a 42 bedroom luxury hotel and bistro.
The choice of the old Tyne Tees Shipping offices was ideal for Hotel du Vin, as it allowed us to develop an iconic building on the Quayside and create rooms with spectacular views of both the maritime history of the area and the industrial tradition, said General Manager Lizzy Kel. She adds: There has been apprehension from guests who have not visited before that they are out of town and not close to any attractions, but are naturally pleasantly surprised to find that we are so close to the city centre, the Quayside and the attractions offered in and around Ouseburn and see this area as a hidden gem .
The Hotel Du Vin is the perfect place in which to relax and indulge. Located on the banks of the River Tyne, this beautiful hotel is close enough to the city centre to take in its many attractions but sufficiently removed to enjoy respite and tranquillity, its presence an unequivocal statement of just how far the Ouseburn has come.
While the scars of its past life remain evident in certain quarters it would be premature to suggest that the Ouseburn has now achieved what might be termed silk purse status, but the drive and commitment of those concerned with and working in the area are such that it is rightly considered an urban gem, firmly established as an important element in Newcastles acclaimed cultural landscape and looking forward to a truly exciting future.
Newcastle is transforming itself as a haven for culture with many leisure, arts and performance enclaves springing up in what were once fairly unfashionable areas of the city.
Do you know of a hidden gem of a pub, restaurant, gallery or arts studio? If so, let us in on the secret by leaving a comment below