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THE first businesses have moved into a reborn former Catholic seminary which is being developed as a new North-East enterprise hub.

Ushaw, on the outskirts of Durham, closed as a seminary seven years ago but reopened in 2014 as a visitor attraction, events venue, and conference centre.

It is now adding business units to its range of facilities and has office space to accommodate up for 40 small companies.

One of the first businesses to move in is run by “Relational Coach” Dr Ian Leslie, whose clients include blue chip industrial companies, public sector organisations, the arts sector, small and medium-sized enterprises, start-ups, and private individuals.

He specialises in helping those clients get the best out of themselves and the people they interact with, including building more mature relationships with employees.

Dr Leslie is originally from London but relocated to the North-East in 1999 and worked for Norsk Hydro as finance director, based in Birtley.

He later joined Siemens, working in finance and change-management roles, and became increasingly interested in helping people thrive. He decided to study for an MBA and later Doctorate in business administration at Durham University Business School, looking at the human impact of change.

With the Business School being based at Ushaw, he became familiar with the environment as a place to study and, as a resident of nearby Bearpark, he often walked his dog in the grounds of the former seminary.

When he launched his business four years ago, he was originally based at the Rivergreen Centre, at Aykley Heads, in Durham, but has now relocated to an office at Ushaw.

Siemens is still one of his clients, coaching senior managers in relational practice, and he has no doubt about the benefits of Ushaw as a business location.

“It has everything I want – comfortable office space, a refectory for lunch, plenty of parking, reasonable rent, and it’s really accessible,” said Dr Leslie. “It has a really special atmosphere and I also have the option to walk around the beautiful gardens with clients.”

An illustrator and a company helping people with phobias are other businesses to have moved into Ushaw, and talks are progressing to bring in another tenant.

Jonathan Ward, Ushaw’s Commercial Manager, said: “It’s a great location for different types of business and, because there’s so much else going on here, it’s a chance to be part of something much bigger.

“It, therefore, comes with amazing networking opportunities and I’m confident we’ll end up with a really interesting business community here. This is just the beginning.”