Communities will combine to investigate the heritage of a North East valley which was at the centre of the industrial revolution.
The Derwent Valley, which stretches from Northumberland in the west to Consett in County Durham and passes through Gateshead on its route to the Tyne, pioneered iron and steelmaking.
It was also home to cultural traditions like rapper sword dancing and pitman poet Tommy Armstrong.
Now a project titled Land of Oak and Iron, which will explore the industrial and natural history heritage of the valley, has been awarded a development grant of £155,980 by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
It will be used to prepare a detailed scheme for submission for a further £2.4m from the HLF towards the £3.6m cost of the wide-ranging project.
The grant was awarded in a competitive bidding round under the Landscape Partnership initiative.
The Derwent scheme was one of nine successful bids out of 23 competing landscape partnership submissions.
The venture involves a partnership of Groundwork North East together with Gateshead and Durham and Northumberland county councils, Durham Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency, Natural England, Gateshead Voluntary Organisations Council and the North of England Civic Trust.
Although once home to major industrial sites and a railway which ran the length of the valley, the area has now largely returned to greenery.
The scheme, which covers 165 square kms, plans to protect the natural assets of the area and hopes to revolutionise how people think about the Derwent Valley.
If successful, the project will examine the remains of the once extensive coal mining, coke producing and steel making industries, which would be protected and developed with new opportunities for the public to better understand them.
These include sites like the Consett steelworks, the pioneering and now listed Derwentcote steel location, the Shotley Bridge sword-makers. Detwenthaugh coke works and the valley’s railway viaducts.
The human stories of the area will also be told in new and exciting ways, with education playing a major role. This will include the work of pitman poet Tommy Armstrong, clog and rapper sword dancing and the estates of the landed elite, such as Gibside.
Although the area’s industrial past had a huge impact on the landscape, it did not destroy it.
Ancient woodland, important grasslands and ecologically valuable wetlands can still be found and Land of Oak and Iron will continue to protect habitats and increase access.
Groundwork’s managing director Kate Culverhouse said: “We are delighted to have been awarded funding from the HLF.
“Over the next seven years we will work with the partners and local communities to deliver exciting heritage, cultural and conservation projects boosting tourism and employment in the Derwent Valley.
“This landscape has some nationally and globally significant features that are at risk of loss.
“The project aims to enhance and promote this heritage and the outstanding natural features to attract more local people and visitors into the valley creating a lasting legacy.
“The enthusiasm of local communities will be harnessed to remember and celebrate the area’s distinctive heritage and landscape through initiatives including restoration of structures and habitats, volunteering, outdoor education and skills development opportunities, improved access and creative interpretation to ensure that the heritage is preserved and enjoyed for generations to come.”
Project co-ordinator Lisa Shearer said: “There is a wealth of natural and built heritage in the Derwent Valley which local groups are passionate about.”
Ivor Crowther, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North East, said: “Supporting projects such as this one in the Derwent Valley is particularly important as they bring together both community groups and public bodies with a shared passion.
“The HLF investment for this historically significant landscape will not only strengthen those partnerships but also capture the enthusiasm of local communities.”