Life flows back into Ouseburn, Newcastle

PUBLISHED: 11:43 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:16 20 February 2013

The Mushroom Works gallery and studios

The Mushroom Works gallery and studios

Anna Richardson discovers a hidden oasis not far from the centre of Newcastle, where innovation has brought about a new lease of life

Not so long ago, there was little to commend the Ouseburn Valley unless your interests lay specifically in derelict buildings and urban decay.
But now this improbably pastoral enclave tucked away beneath Byker Metro bridge is back in business. Pigeon crees and ponies sit alongside galleries and workshops, while breakers yards and small factories operate next door to some of the citys more leftfield bars
and venues.
All too often, regeneration involves trading tradition and character for concrete, chrome and the ubiquitous cappuccino culture. But the renaissance of the Ouseburn Valley proves that an area can be rejuvenated without forgoing its identity which, in this case, is rooted in a rich industrial and creative heritage.
Thanks to the river running through the valley and lending its name to the area, Ouseburn as we know it was a hive of industry as long ago as the Middle Ages, when water-powered mills were a common sight along the river banks.
The Georgian period saw potteries and earthenware manufacturers springing up throughout the valley and the industry flourished throughout the 19th century, with the world-famous Maling pottery setting up shop in the area in 1815.
Other businesses, including millers, spinners and ironworkers, followed suit and by the dawn of the Victorian era, heavy industry had exhausted the area. In the first half of 20th century, the area was cleared and many of the old sites were demolished or buried under landfill, the area forgotten by all but the local boat club and pigeon racing association - and the patrons of a few spit-and-sawdust pubs.
But more recently a new community has emerged, instigated by frustrated artists and artisans unable to afford the high rents of city centre studios, who began to make the vast open spaces of the abandoned warehouses and factories their own.
Now, studios and galleries like Mushroom Works, Northern Print and the Biscuit Factory are thriving, and artists regularly collaborate in events like the Ouseburn Open Studios at the end of every year, where the studio doors
are open to the public for a glimpse of the creative process. Many local artists also take part in the Late Shows in
May each year.
The innovative spirit that prompted the areas revival is epitomised by ventures such as the Star and Shadow cinema, a non-profit, volunteer-run venue offering far more than offering far more than just the showing of films.
As well as running a full programme of films youre unlikely to see anywhere else in the North East, the venue, at the top of Stepney Bank, plays host to gigs, exhibitions, markets, club nights and all manner of eclectic events.
Live music is also a major part of life in Ouseburn, with venues like the Cluny, the Tyne and the Cumberland Arms serving up local and international talent alongside the beer and bar food. Theres even a festival every summer, with this years planned for July 17 and 18.
In certain parts of Ouseburn it can be easy to forget youre in the city, largely thanks to the areas animal population. Horses and ponies can be seen and heard trotting around the Stepney Bank stables, which caters for novices to seasoned riders.
Just down the road, the purpose-built Ouseburn Farm is home to a menagerie of pigs, sheep and goats as well as chickens and ducks, and the cuddly factor is provided by the farms resident rabbits, which are particularly popular with children.
If your kids are of a more literary persuasion, or you just want to let loose your inner child, Seven Stories is just around the corner. The UKs first museum dedicated to the art of childrens books, the centre houses a permanent collection of original artwork and manuscripts as well as running a programme of themed events celebrating kids classics new and old.
From its headquarters on the other side of the street, the Ouseburn Trust runs a variety of events from nature walks to heritage talks. Highlights include guided tours of the Victorian Tunnel, an 1840s wagonway used as an air raid shelter in WWII, now home to its very own specially-commissioned art installation, combining art and industry with a healthy dollop of history. Just like the Ouseburn Valley, in fact.


For information on in the Ouseburn Valley, visit www.ouseburntrust.org.uk or www.ouseburnnewcastle.org.

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