North East Connected

Law firm’s work gives The Bank a new lease of life

Durham city’s leading law firm, Swinburne Maddison LLP (Swinburne Maddison), has helped to pave the way for the old Lloyds Bank building on Derwent Street in Chopwell to embark on a new lease of life as an enterprise and welfare centre.

Following an instruction from Chopwell Regeneration CIO, the building’s new leasehold owners, Swinburne Maddison has completed the lease agreement enabling the next phase of the building’s life to get underway when it will be known as ‘The Bank’.

Construction began at the end of April, to strip out the building and completely refurbish it, turning it into a central place for the community to meet, take part in activities and access services and training.  The plans are for the building to become fully functional by October 2021.

Gateshead Council, the building’s owner, has leased The Bank to Chopwell Regeneration Group for 35 years free of charge, so that it can be brought back into community use.

After standing empty for several years, £234,000 has already been raised by the community-based charity to make the building safe and usable and now they are fundraising for support with running costs when they open.

A warm and welcoming place to visit in the heart of Chopwell, The Bank will feature a community café open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays together with employability training, mentoring and support for start-ups and small businesses.

There will also be rooms for small businesses and artists to rent, which will provide income to maintain the building with some hot desking facilities too, if permitted.

Swinburne Maddison is well known to the chair of the Chopwell Regeneration Group, Jodie Barwick-Bell, who has worked with them on several projects over the years.

Commenting on the project, Swinburne Maddison’s real estate partner, Victoria Walton, said: “Although Swinburne Maddison has an increasingly prominent region-wide stature and reputation, we are committed to achieving the best possible outcome for every client – whatever their size or financial standing – including charitable enterprises such as this.

“We were delighted to be able to help lay the foundations for an organisation that looks set to make such a positive social contribution within this part of Gateshead, which is desperately needed.

“We are now in the process of preparing template letting documentation so that some of the space can be rented out, which will create an important revenue stream for Chopwell Regeneration Group in the future.”

Jodie Barwick-Bell, chair of the Chopwell Regeneration Group, said: “It is wonderful to see progress finally being made.  Since the mine closed in the 1960s, the village has been in decline and this facility will make an enormous difference to our community. 

“We have been working towards opening a building since the Chopwell Regeneration Group was formed by residents in 2017.  We have already undertaken several initiatives to set Chopwell on the road to a brighter future, such as developing a community orchard and a community allotment and brightening up the village with planting and Christmas lights, but we lacked a central base.  Now we have one and will be able to create jobs and opportunities in the heart of Chopwell.”

In 2018/19, Chopwell Regeneration Group undertook a feasibility study to consider alternative uses for some of the empty buildings in the village and as a result, Gateshead Council showed its support, bought the old Lloyds Bank building and agreed to lease it to the charity.

Jodie continued: “The Bank will be a game changer for our community. It will help meet immediate needs such as the significant food poverty in our rural community as we will be providing a ‘pay what you can’ café and a community fridge. At the same time, we will be providing opportunities for people to learn new skills and gain qualifications and providing a place for people to meet and take part in a wide range of activities and events.

“But the important thing is for local people to feel empowered to make change happen and, seeing construction work get underway, it is clear that this part of their journey has already begun – it is down to the support of so many people in our community that we are able to make The Bank a reality.”

In devising the plans for the building Chopwell Regeneration Group have partnered with Andy Haddon and his team at Big River Bakery.

Andy commented: “The Bank project has the potential to be a transformative space for Chopwell and we are excited to work with Chopwell Regeneration Group and the community to ensure it becomes a vibrant space which maximises the benefits for all.”

(L to R), Victoria Walton, Swinburne Maddison’s real estate partner, Councillor Michael McNestry, Gateshead Council, Jodie Barwick-Bell, chair of the Chopwell Regeneration Group

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