Barnard Castle boasts all the treasure in Teesdale
PUBLISHED: 00:16 18 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:17 20 February 2013
There's more to Barnard Castle than a fortress and fine antiques, as Gareth Dant discovers
Nowhere escapes the march of 21st century globalisation. But were not talking about multi-national commerce, more the digital drive of fibre optic-fuelled high technology.
Youll find these and other buzzwords littering even one of the most westerly reaches of our region, beautiful Barnard Castle, in Teesdale.
Hill farmers just a few miles up the road may struggle to get the broadband that will enable them to clamber aboard the information superhighway but, in the town itself, theres a brave new project to combine art, education and high-tech employment.
NeST (it is short for Newgate Studios) was created from a redundant car showroom in August. Now providing a hot desking home for artists, creative and digital businesses, it also houses gallery space and a caf.
It also has links to Middlesbroughs Digital City, a celebrated collaboration between One NorthEast, the University of Teesside and Middlesbrough
Council to promote the so-called digital sector that combines creativity and computing expertise.
Two of NeSTs founding tenants are fitness instructor-turned photographer Eva Zandman and filmmaker Alan Fentiman.
Its central, and a nice new place and we want everybody to come and see what we are and what we do, says Eva, 29, who specialises in portraiture, but has recently been experimenting with an unusual approach to landscapes using infra red light. She shares her roomy NeST studio with fellow photographer Keith Orange.
Alan, 34, moved with his Richmond-born actress wife from London, finding he could easily work from home - with the right equipment. But, he said, NeST provides what many home-workers find they miss: face-to-face social and creative interaction.
Two Apple iMac computers are available for visiting creatives to use, while Eva has just taken on a role as digital assistant at NeST to help out and to sign up local businesses to get involved with the project. As well as training and computing resourses, NeST offers a contemporary venue for launch parties and business meetings.
Visitors have the chance to watch artists as they work, while enjoying something to eat in the caf. Run by Clare Dixon and Sue Black, of Teesdale firm CCS Catering, it is open seven days.
I think we are offering something a little different, says Clare, pointing out that the atmosphere contrasts with the towns cosy tearooms.
Investment for NeST came from the county council, One NorthEast and a North Pennine Dales LEADER grant, jointly funded by Defra and the EU.
Making the short stroll into Barnard Castles main shopping area, I step back into past and am soon in the midst of the towns lovely antique shops on The Bank, including the Mission Hall Antiques Centre - a collection of outlets ranging from ceramics and furniture to vintage clothes.
Elsewhere, the town revels in a range of unusual small independent stores and is blessed with a particularly good butchers and bakers.
Among the latter is a newcomer. The Moody Baker, a business set up in Alston, Cumbria, eight years ago by Meryl Baker and Liz Moody, branched out in October with the opening of its Barnard Castle shop.
But the second outlet is much more than a simple business expansion. It prompted the complete relocation to the town of the four partners who run it: Meryls son Dave Baker, his partner Sarah Sawyer, Marzia Aloisio and Chris Gibson. All had worked together at Alston.
Wed been looking for a bigger town for the next stage, explains Sarah, adding that they had enjoyed coming to Barnys excellent farmers market - held on the first Saturday of the month - for years.
Like NeST, the partners received help from local development agency Barnard Castle Vision, opening in a vacant gift shop.
Everything is hand-baked on the premises, Sarah explains, adding that people are prepared to pay the premium demanded for an artisan loaf. The meat in our savouries comes from MacFarlanes butcher, up the street, other ingredients are sourced as locally as possible, and our flour comes from a co-operative wholesaler.
Meanwhile, a striking new development is taking shape on the north-eastern side of town, close to Teesdale comprehensive, where a major youth centre project is currently under construction.
The Hub will provide amenities ranging from a caf and music, drama and dance studios to a BMX track, skating bowl and canoeing lake.
The multi-million pound regional showcase aims to attract young people from across the region to make use of its cultural, leisure, sporting and educational activities.