JOB DONE: Luke Jordan and Cedric Charleof completed the restoration of the Pittuck Mural in St Mary’s Parish Hall
JOB DONE: Luke Jordan and Cedric Charleof completed the restoration of the Pittuck Mural in St Mary’s Parish Hall

It’s a 12 months that is ending much as it started – shrouded in uncertainty as a result of the ongoing Covid situation. As we head towards 2022, life is anything but back to normal, but that doesn’t mean the dale was dominated by the pandemic – there was much else making headlines in the Mercury. Senior reporter Stuart Laundy recalls some of the highs and lows of a busy 2021.

THE year began with news of a potential political comeback for the dale’s former MP Helen Goodman.
Mrs Goodman, who served as Bishop Auckland MP from 2005 to 2019, was chosen as a Labour Party candidate for the West Auckland ward in the county council elections in May. Ms Goodman said one of the reasons for throwing her hat into the ring was the chance to get involved with issues at a local level which she was unable to do as an MP.
Unfortunately for Mrs Goodman, she was unsuccessful in the May polls
Elsewhere, Barnard Castle antiques dealer Charlie Ing took over as chairman of the independent monitoring board (IMB) for Deerbolt Young Offenders’ Institution.
In the IMB’s report for 2020, outgoing chairman John Stoney highlighted how Covid-19 had resulted in a drop of violent incidents, while the pandemic had halted all rehabilitation and education activities.
The report also stated drugs were still posing a problem at the jail.
The turn of the year also saw Staindrop and Gainford parish councils at loggerheads with Raby Estates over the landowner’s plans to build a large housing estate in each village.
Both councils agreed to issue legal letters with a view to taking Durham County Council to a judicial review after planning permission was granted to Raby Estates for 72 houses in Staindrop and 79 in Gainford to raise cash for a planned revamp of the grounds at Raby Castle.
With the country back in lockdown, it was reported there had been an “explosion in demand” for school places for the children of key workers due to an expanded list of those deemed “critical” workers.
January ended with fears being voiced about the impact the planned closure of Newton Rigg College, in Penrith, would have on how Teesdale’s future farmers would access training.
Efforts by York’s Askham Bryan College, which acquired Newton Rigg in 2011, to find a new operator ended in failure in December 2020, leading to plans to press ahead with the closure of the campus at the end of the school year in July.
Langledale craftsman Trevor Dixon – well known for his miniature models of farmhouses and stonewall scenes – produced a stunning replica of Barnard Castle’s Market Cross. There was a buzz of interest on social media after Mr Dixon spent two months creating the model, working off photographs of the iconic structure.

TEESDALE entertainer Steve Reay came up with an unusual request in the form of a new song.
Mr Reay, from Wackerfield, spent six months perfecting his single I Just Want to Gig at The Witham after seeing fellow musician Sam Nixon perform a set as part of the Acoustic Cafe sessions.
Mr Reay’s prayers were answered in the summer when he was invited to sing and play at one of the arts centre’s outdoor weekend sessions.
It was still winter, but there was growing demand for an allotment in the town.
The waiting list for a plot had risen to more than 30, with demand attributed to more people wanting to grow their own as a result of the pandemic.
There was a mixed reaction to plans by Middleton-in-Teesdale firm Technimark’s expansion plans.
The company said the scheme would create 30 new jobs and secure its future in the dale, but some residents were worried about increased noise, traffic and the impact on the conservation area. After much debate, the scheme was later granted planning permission by Durham County Council.
Traders at Barnard Castle Farmers’ Market kept their fingers crossed as judging took place for the Farm Retails Association awards. Barney was shortlisted in the farmers’ market of the year category, was but eventually pipped by an entry from Hampshire. The Barney traders are hoping to go one better next year having been shortlisted again.
A new gate was installed at the entrance to the lower Demesnes after a long-running debate on how best to protect the beauty spot from damage.
The issue would rear its head later in the year when travellers broke in and set up an illegal camp ahead of the delayed Appleby Fair.
Tributes were paid to the founder of a children’s charity who died aged 55.
Chris Read ran A Smile for a Child, a charity dedicated to helping disabled and disadvantaged children improve their mobility and get into sport, from his Barnard Castle home before moving to Newton Aycliffe to be closer to better transport links.
The dale’s oldest resident, Margaret Swan, who celebrated her 106th birthday this year, was among the first in the dale to receive their second coronavirus jab.
By chance, administering the jab was her former GP Dr John White, who came out of retirement.

RESIDENTS in Gainford and Staindrop pledged thousands of pounds in an effort to stop huge housing estates being built in their villages to fund a major revamp of the grounds and gardens at Raby Castle.
Householders in Staindrop pledged more than £12,000 in just over a week, while the Gainford Deserves Better group raised about £7,000 towards the legal costs of a judicial review into Durham County Council's decision to grant planning permission for 79 homes in Gainford and 72 in Staindrop. However, by the end of the month, Gainford Parish Council had abandoned plans to pursue the legal challenge amid fears the cost could leave the group short of cash.
Another controversial housing scheme was given the go-ahead, this time on the outskirts of Barnard Castle.
The Banks Group’s proposals for another 100-homes, despite a huge number of objections and fears the extra properties would add further pressures to the town’s services and infrastructure.
Despite Durham County Council’s planning committee being told the site was not included on a list of those suitable for development – leading to one member asking what the point of the County Durham Plan was – councillors voted 9-5 in favour of the scheme.
In a month dominated by planning issues, Agricore, which recycles plasterboard at Hill Top Farm, near Winston, won a divisive 15-month battle to continue running its operation.
The company had been given temporary consent to run the business for five years in 2015, but when the firm applied to make the arrangement permanent, a vociferous campaign opposed to the scheme was mounted.
Durham County Council’s planning committee voted 9-5 in favour of allowing the business to continue.
There was good news for lovers of Barnard Castle's heritage with the completion of restoration work on the Pittuck Mural, which adorns St Mary’s Parish Hall.
Experts Luke Jordan and Cedric Charleof worked through the Covid-19 lockdown to restore the artwork, which was painted by former Barnard Castle School art teacher Douglas Pittuck in the early 1950s.
Barnard Castle Town Council was ordered to pay its former deputy clerk more than £55,000 after an industrial tribunal ruled she had been unfairly dismissed and was a victim of disability discrimination.