A retired man from Durham has dedicated the past year to transform the formerly neglected outdoor bank in Hamsterley into an area the whole community can be proud of.

Robin Old began work on the overgrown wooded Hamsterley Bank which leads to Blackhall Mill village, at the height of the pandemic in October 2020, to bring some joy to people out for local walks.

What started out as a labour of love for 74-year-old Robin, soon became a project which brought residents and businesses together – and has now been aptly named ‘Robin’s Bakery Walk’ as it is on route to the popular local bakery.

Robin said: “The area was so overgrown, it was quite daunting at first, but I rolled up my sleeves and thought I’d see what I could do. A year on – I’m still going! In the time I have been working on the woods, I have made so many friends and wish to thank everyone for their contributions.

“The community has really got behind the project and appreciate something positive happening in their local area. From plants and seeds, to seating, flowers and even a gifted leaf blower and vacuum, it’s been a real team effort.”

“I started out on my own, but many people have joined in to improve the area we live in. During a difficult time, it’s been great to see everyone supporting each other. Our friends in the village have made such a wonderful job of the verges and picnic area and I’d like to say a special thanks to resident Tom Drummond who has worked incredibly hard on the cenotaph garden.

“I’m very proud to be part of the Derwent Valley community and it’s fantastic to think that we have a space which will bring happiness to people for years to come.”

As well as transforming the local environment and planting hundreds of bulbs, seeds and meadow flowers, Robin has found the experience has given his wellbeing a huge boost.

He continued: “During the pandemic I wanted to do something positive and being outdoors really helps to lift the spirits. Fortunately for all of us, my lovely wife Carole kept us going with coffee and biscuits as we worked.

“I’d encourage anyone feeling a bit down to get out into nature, as the little things can soon make a big difference.

“The more I cut back and removed the brambles, collected the years’ worth of rubbish which had built up and cleaned everything up, the more satisfied I felt in myself. I kept going through the winter, no matter the weather and I feel really proud of what’s been achieved and how much better the bank looks today.

“It’s fantastic to see the changes through the seasons – from the colours of autumn to the beautiful daffodils in the spring. A year on, the community can see such a change in the area and it’s a pleasant place for everyone to enjoy.”

Robin’s hard work has even been recognised by his local MP. Earlier this year, Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham, visited Hamsterley Bank to see the improvements Robin has made and wrote to him expressing his gratitude.

Richard Holden MP said: “Before Robin got started, to be honest, the bank was just overgrown scrubland.

“He has absolutely transformed it during lockdown and since and I have been delighted to see the results and to visit to see for myself.”

“This goes to show what true public spirited work can deliver – real transformation. Furthermore I am delighted that Robin is getting real local recognition for his work, something he never sought but truly deserves.”

Local residents recently shared their thanks to Robin on the community Facebook group.

Vera Ward, who lives in the area, said: “We are so lucky to have you Robin, you have done the most amazing job on what was one of the dirtiest roads in the area. Thank you so much for your continued dedication.”

Other commenters posted how “truly amazing” the transformation is and thanked Robin for all his hard work, in all weathers.

Resident Margaret Maughan commented: “Thanks to everyone who donated and helped. It makes me smile every time I go up and down the bank. And a great big thank you to Robin.”

Robin would like to thank the following businesses for their support:

• Gleeson Homes – concrete base for seat.
• Dane Architectural Systems Ltd – seat provider.
• Beverages – flowers for the old fire pit at the top of the bank.
• Linzford Garden Centre – flowers to plant near the new Hamsterley sign.
• Northumbrian Water – leaf blower and vacuum.
• Riverview Bakery and Blackhall Mill Pottery and Flowers – for their continued support and breathing life into the valley.

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