2020 was an unusual and challenging year.
It started off quite well. Then we were hit with the worst pandemic in 102 years. Following an increase of Coronavirus cases – COVID-19 – the country went into lockdown in March 2020.
The year had started with a great deal of optimism.
- Auckland Castle was proving very popular since opening in November 2019. A new season was expected to pull in thousands of visitors during the year.
- The Mining Art Gallery had won a North East tourism award.
- The Bishop Auckland Town Team had published a year’s programme of public entertainment.
- Bishop Auckland had achieved the Gold Award in the Northumbria in Bloom initiative in 2019 and had plans to expand the floral displays in 2020.
- The Spanish Art Gallery was anticipated to open.
- Progress was being made with the Faith Museum.
- The £1.5 million refurbishment of Bishop Auckland Town Hall was due to be completed.
- The Heritage Action Zone was expected to start completing some of the smaller schemes of the 40 odd projects planned over a 5-year period.
- Traders in Fore Bondgate had established the Future of Fore Bondgate group and most of the shops contained independent retailers.
- Kynren had enjoyed its 4th season since opening in 2016. The show was in the top three of UK attractions, according to Tripadvisor. It had big plans to expand the 11 Arches site to include several new attractions in The Park.
By the end of March 2020, Bishop Auckland – along with everywhere else in the UK – closed down. Many plans were simply put on hold. The number one priority was to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Doing What We Could
For the Town Ambassadors as a group of volunteers, we had just completed a Workshop in February 2020. This identified a series of actions we needed to take to effectively promote Bishop Auckland and help visitors when they came to Town. The following month, our plans for 2020 went up in smoke!!
Some of us were in the COVID-19 ‘vulnerable’ groups and had to shield or self-isolate. People couldn’t travel – except for essential reasons – and the Town shut down.
As some restrictions lifted, those Ambassadors who were able to go into Town, tried to help promote businesses where they could. As with other groups, we used our Facebook Page to promote those activities that were still going on in Town. We did what we could!
546 Town Ambassador posts were uploaded on our Facebook page during 2020. Of these, 20 were original posts and 526 were shared from a business or organisation. Hence we were able to use our Social Media presence to help promote Bishop Auckland and the people in it.
Funding from Bishop Auckland and Shildon Area Action Partnership enabled us to develop this website. However, two of the features, ‘Where to Eat’ and the ‘Business Directory will not become ‘live’ until all our businesses are fully operating again.
A New Year of Challenge
Bishop Auckland is facing many varied and serious challenges. The pandemic is still with us. Over 105,000 people have died from COVID-19 related illness, so far. However, a vaccine programme is being rolled out at a rapid rate. Over 10 million people have been vaccinated since January.
Early indications are that the vaccination is helping protect people quite effectively. It also appears to help reduce the spread of the virus in the community.
While months of restrictions will continue to apply, there is hope that an easing of most restrictions could be in place during the summer/autumn of 2021.
In this year of COVID-19 recovery, some good news on investment in the Town has also been made public. Last month it was revealed that £19.9 million will be invested in a new bus station; a 1,200-vehicle car park between Binchester Roman Fort and Auckland Castle Park grounds; bringing town centre buildings back into use; improving the look of Newgate Street; and developing new hotel facilities. This was under the Government’s Future High Street Fund initiative.
Durham County Council were also invited by the Government to submit bids under the Government’s Stronger Towns Fund last year. At the end of last month – January – Durham County Council submitted a further bid for around £50 million to support 9 projects which, it is claimed – will ‘accelerate the regeneration of the town.’
The response of the NHS, Care Workers and community groups to deal with the COVID-19 crisis has been remarkable. The speed of the vaccination roll out has been astonishing. We need to build upon the strength of our community engagement and make 2021 our year of recovery.
The Town Ambassadors will work with others to help get the Town back on its feet again, at the earliest opportunity.
To see the investment that is planned for Bishop Auckland click on the following link: