Two Northumberland valleys are in line for a £2.7m investment which will seek to make the most of their natural and historical qualities.
The Heritage Lottery Fund has confirmed a £1.7m grant for the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership which will manage the four-year project for the East and West Allen valleys.
The aim is to raise another £1m in match funding.
Preservation of historic buildings, restoration of hay meadows, and management of woodlands and wildlife are some of the projects planned.
It is hoped the scheme will provide a boost for the area by strengthening the visitor economy through allowing greater access to heritage sites and promoting understanding of the area’s cultural history.
The AONB Partnership’s Andy Lees, who is managing the scheme, says: “This is a really exciting time for everyone involved. We’re thrilled with the confirmation of the grant from the HLF and it means we can finally put our plans into action.
“The Allen Valleys boasts outstanding natural and built heritage features that will benefit from sympathetic management, increased care and interpretation opportunity. “Without major intervention now some of these irreplaceable assets could be lost forever.
“With this money, and the help of a wide range of partners, we aim to breathe new life into the area’s special qualities.”
The first move will be the purchase in early summer of 17 electric bikes, which have a range of 35 miles.
Businesses will be able to lease bikes at a subsidised rate, allowing people to explore the valleys and further afield.
It is planned to extend the electric bike network across the North Pennines.
“One of the aims to get people to leave their cars. We hope the bikes, which are a dream on hills, will appeal to people who last cycled some time ago or not at all,” says Andy.
“Users will be able to call at a cafe for a half-hour break and recharge their bike for another 15 miles.”
Also during the first year there are plans to create a community growing space, restore wildlife habitats and start to consolidate one of the area’s key heritage structures, Allen Mills.
In the boom time of lead extraction in the North Pennines, the Allen Mills site near Allendale was one of the most active smelting centres in the north of England.
The Partnership team will work with the site’s owner to preserve and interpret some of the key remains within the Scheduled Ancient Monument, which it is hoped will include the restoration of its water wheel.
Other sites targeted for regeneration include Deneholme woodland garden, Barney Craig mine shop and Ninebanks Hearse House.
Deneholme is an Edwardian house near Allendale which is run by an outdoor training venture.
Work will focus on its woodland garden, and the provision of permissive paths.
The Barney Craig mine shop near Carrshield, where miners once lodged, will also be repaired as will the Hearse House on the Isaac Holden Tea Trail walking route.
There are also plans to set up a small observatory at Allenheads to take advantage of the dark skies of the North Pennines, plus plans for an Allen Valleys folk festival in October.
The Allen Valleys cover about 20,000 hectares of the catchments of the rivers East and West Allen, in south west Northumberland.
Locals, business owners and community groups have had their say in shaping some elements of the scheme and will continue to be involved over the next four years and beyond.
Andy says: “We want to find ways during the next four years to create sustainable projects that will go on beyond the life of the scheme, This is just the start.
“Plans for a community micro-hydro project will support renewable energy generation which we hope, in turn, will provide an income that will allow these projects to continue way into the future.”
Chris Woodley-Stewart, director of the AONB Partnership, said: “We hope it has far reaching benefits that will be felt by many generations to come.”
Ivor Crowther, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North East, said: “HLF’s landscape-scale funding has helped forge strong local partnerships which have secured the future of some of our most threatened landscapes – many in the North East.
“This project will ensure that a much wider range of people will benefit from the natural heritage around them and mean that the impressive built heritage of the Allen Valleys will be restored and conserved.
“We were impressed with this project’s vision for the area and the commitment and support that local communities have given to the scheme.”