A BUSINESS boss from South Tyneside has been given the seal of approval for his restoration of a landmark building.
TV presenter and historian John Grundy unveiled a heritage plaque at Heworth Hall, Heworth, Gateshead, which is now home to award-winning IT company Aspire – run by Whitburn man Nigel Begg.
The Grundy’s Wonders presenter said: “I’m really impressed with the restoration, and it’s great to see a building with such a long and fascinating history being used – and cared for – by such an up-to-date technology company.”
Aspire’s transformation of the hall, which was built in 1730 for the wealthy Russell family, had already been recognised by two prestigious awards.
Aspire’s redevelopment was rewarded in both the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) North East Renaissance Awards and the Royal Town Planning Institute regional awards.
Mr Grundy added: “I used to admire the hall when I taught in Felling, and then passed it on the Metro every day on my way into South Shields, where I went on to teach.
“It had become quite tawdry and appeared derelict for some time, but to see it now is quite exciting. It has been transformed.
“It’s an area I know well and an area that resonates with important history, an area with a theme of technological advance.”
William Russell of Sunderland and Brancepeth Castle is believed to have built the hall, then Nether Heworth Hall, in 1730.
His family were landowners and also owned mines, notably Russell’s Main in Washington.
The Russells also built the Washington Waggonway to Bill Quay Staith early in the 18th century. In 1929, the hall became Heworth Conservative Club, which it remained until becoming the home of Aspire.
The hall, a Grade II listed building, had been empty and neglected for several years before being bought by Aspire, which also has offices in Hebburn.
Managing director Nigel Begg had the vision to convert the building – on the Felling bypass – into a modern, attractive office space.
Aspire bought the site in 2010 and planning permission and listed building consent were given in March 2011. The refurbished building was opened in November 2011.
Mr Begg said: “We could see the potential of what is an iconic building and knew it would make a great HQ for us.
“We wanted a building with a prominent location, but also a building that could provide state-of-the-art accommodation for a fast-growing, cutting-edge IT company.
“We are thrilled that John took the time to come and visit us. He certainly knew the area and the building well, although he did say that what we thought was a tunnel from the hall to St Mary’s was probably an ice house.”
Aspire is one of the region’s leading technology companies, specialising in hosted services, data centre solutions, communications and traditional IT support.