John Banham
Project Manager, Chester le Street Council

Looking at an aerial shot of the River Wear in Chester-le-Street, County Durham taken back in August of 1991, it's hard to believe that one is looking at a patch of land upon which international cricket is today being played. The shot shows the river meandering around Chester-Le-Street. There is a large patch of land next to the river, a few acres of farmer's fields and a few acres of grass. The landscape is empty.

How times change. These days the land is the home of Durham County Cricket Club, which, in 1990, was granted County Championship status by the Test and County Cricket Board.

It is a home that compares in size to any ground in England, including the Test Match grounds at Lords, the Oval, Edgbaston, Trent Bridge, Old Trafford and Headingley. A once-sparse patch of land has come a long way in what is a relatively short period of time.

That it has been able to make this journey in double-quick time and with no real hiccups along the way owes much to the strength of the three partners who have been involved in what was initially known as the Chester-le-Street Riverside project at its conception in the early 1990s. They are Chester-le-Street District Council, Durham County Council and Durham County Cricket Club.

In the early days of the project, the partners had a vision for the Riverside. Among their aims were providing greater sporting and cultural opportunities, an attractive wooded wildlife area and a first class cricket ground as the centerpiece of a new strategic tourism attraction.

There was also another issue. When this vision was initially talked about, the North East was not known as a cricketing region; it also wasn't known as a region with top-notch sporting facilities, stunning scenery and attractive landscapes. By transforming the riverside into a place where people would visit for both sporting and wider, cultural reasons, the partners saw an ideal opportunity to alter outside perceptions of the area.

Co-ordinating the scheme from the outset was Riverside Project Manager, John Banham. His first task was to organise extensive assessments and preparatory works ensuring that the development had good access, conserved most of the wildlife and fitted in with neighbours such as Lumley Castle. Once such issues had been ironed out, the partners' vision for the future was crystalised in the Riverside Master Plan which was approved in 1992 and which has formed the basis of continued development works at the site.

Finance was always going to be an issue for the project and it was recognised at the outset that the success of the scheme would partly be dependent on the ability of the partners involved to lever in outside monies. In presenting the case for financial support to the European Commission in 1992, the partners stressed the importance of developing a facility which created a new image for the area and enhanced cultural diversity.

Says John Banham: "Certainly the televising of cricket matches on this site with the backdrop of woodlands and Lumley Castle has broadcast a very positive image of the region, both at a national and international level."

Right from day one it has been a major team effort to get such an ambitious project off the ground and maintain its momentum along the way. What looked like optimistic targets have been achieved and numerous milestones notched up. The first cricket match was played at the ground in 1994, the first Championship matches were played in 1995 and the first One Day Internationals took place there in 1999. The icing on the cake, however, came last year. Says John, who now heads the Strategy and Public Relations Team at Chester-le-Street District Council: "The year 2000 saw the first England international - which England won! - and this was a significant milestone in terms of the overall impact of the site. It was a hugely satisfying moment for all the partners involved. We had always hoped to bring international cricket here by the turn of the century and so last year was very much a defining year for us."

The development of Durham County Cricket Ground and surrounding riverside area has always been about much more than sport, however. From the start, the District Council has seen this as a project that can bring economic, tourism, marketing, social and community benefits to Chester-Le-Street - all on the back of a championship ground with an increasingly high profile.

Adds John: "The site as a whole is very large - over 50 hectares in size. It was imperative that this was a project for Chester-Le-Street as a whole, one that benefits people from all walks of life in and around the area. Inevitably there have been spin-offs from the ground with County Championship and One Day International matches bringing large numbers of people into the area and the knock-on effect that this has on the local economy.

"The ground is also an opportunity to bring businesses together. Chester-Le-Street is very well located, just off the A1 and in the centre of the region. The ground provides an excellent meeting place for businesses from within the North East and further afield."


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