The idea for the Tees Heritage Park came from the local branch of CPRE (Council for Preservation of Rural England) back in 2004.
It recognised that there was a huge swathe of virtually untouched countryside along the River Tees between Yarm and Stockton and in the Leven Valley. Extensive residential developments had taken place all around, but had turned their backs on the river valley and the pollution from the heavy industry downriver.
The construction of the the Tees Barrage changed all that and this stretch of the river became none tidal enabling its unspoilt rural quality to be fully appreciated.
CPRE recognised the importance of protecting the lands and promoting the area as an entity, to provide a much needed place of nature and relaxation in the midst of the conurbation. To achieve this, a separate group was formed.
The Friends of Tees Heritage Park (FTHP), which was launched formally in 2007. Working closely with Stockton Council, local communities and other appropriate bodies, the boundaries of the Park were defined and aspirations for its future explored.
The breakthrough came in 2010 when, with the help of Groundwork NE and Stockton Council, FTHP was awarded Big Lottery Flagship Grant amounting to £600,000
This enabled physical works to be carried out to enhance the Park, including commissioning landscape artworks developed in conjunction with local schoolchildren. Following extensive consultations with local communities the works were completed in 2012.
Better access, improved footpaths, rest areas/sculptures, signal posts with QR technology, etc have all enabled visitors to enjoy this wonderful facility on their doorstep and learn about their local landscape, wildlife and history.
Stockton Council have included the Heritage Park in their approved Planning Strategy and their strong green wedge policies should protect the Park for future generations.
The success of the Park encouraged Groundwork and other partners in the project to look at the River Tees and environs as a whole and how to reconnect communities all along the valley with this wonderful asset on their doorstep. To applaud its history, but promote a new image of the river as it is now, as a place for leisure and relaxation for all.
To this end The River Tees Rediscovered Landscape Partnership was formed and Groundwork NE/Cumbria were awarded a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2014, which together with Partner contributions provided a delivery programme of £3.7 million over a 5 year programme.
FTHP was an active Partner and its Chair Doug Nicholson was selected to also Chair the new RTR Partnership
The RTR project was launched in 2015 and successfully concluded in 2020.
It was clear that the Partnership had become so well established and had so much more potential it should be retained and developed.
The Tees Valley Combined Authority also recognised the need to promote the river and the benefits a new image could bring to our area, locally and nationally. The Authority recognised the experience and skills of the Partnership and it has been agreed that the RTR partnership should continue and work with the TVCA to enhance and promote the River Tees for the benefit of all.
Unfortunately the covid pandemic hit us and reviving the programme is currently on standby. However the the Tees Heritage Park will be a crucial ingredient in the project and its long term future is assured.
FTHP members are proud of their contribution to instigate and achieve the creation of the Heritage Park. The Group is currently inactive, but there may be a role in future to promote activity in the Park and further community involvement. However this will require a new generation and new energy to take over the reins.