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Hip Hip Heaton

Friday December 16, 2016

In 2013, on this blog I mentioned that Heaton was catching up with our posh neighbour Jesmond. Today I can confidently say that in many respects, Heaton has eclipsed Jesmond as a place to live, work, eat, shop and play.

Once the spluttered outbursts from Jesmond residents have subsided I will explain why.

The history of both areas is very similar. Built by Victorian entrepreneurs, the heart of both communities consist of lovely substantial houses.

Both areas suffered decline in the 1950’s and 60’s as more professionals moved out of the city to enjoy a rural lifestyle. All too often their large houses were partitioned into multiple occupancy and grotty student flats.

From the late 1990’s bespoke student accommodation began to appear. Frequently built on brown field sites close to our universities, they offered facilities similar to an aparthotel.

As a result, both Jesmond and Heaton saw a decline in student numbers. Smart landlords realised the only way forward was to invest, turning grotty student bedsits into refurbished apartments suitable for young professionals.

Cue an influx of young, educated tenants with money to spend. Good for both Jesmond and Heaton, so why do I think Heaton currently has the edge?

There are endless learned discussions as to what is necessary for urban regeneration but experts agree on certain basic factors. Location, education, opportunity and transport.

Location. Both Jesmond and Heaton enjoy a prime location within walking distance of the city centre. But Heaton has Heaton Park, a gem in its own right, the park is linked to Jesmond Dene, Paddy Freemans Park, the Warwick Street Sports Ground and by the Ouseburn Conservation Area to the Newcastle Quayside. This represents some of our city’s finest green spaces and it is on our doorstep.

Education. Most of the young professionals moving into Heaton have attended north east universities, fallen in love with the region and decided to stay. They are well travelled, have sophisticated tastes and money to spend. All right, the same may be said of Jesmond so let us call this one a draw.

Opportunity. This is a key area and one which enables Heaton to ace almost any other area in Newcastle. Ironically, this is due in part to Heaton suffering a decline in its retail stock during the 80’s through to the early noughties. Heaton has a lot of shops.

This means rent and business rates in Heaton are a fraction of those in Jesmond. This in turn encourages young entrepreneurs to have a go. The result is a fantastic mix of shops, cafés, restaurants and businesses trying something new.

One of Newcastles top restaurants started life in an empty shop unit on Chillingham Road with basic catering equipment and bargain basement furniture. The owner had a vision for a new twist on Italian cuisine. A couple of years on he is now in a tres chic city location and if you have not booked, you are not getting a table. His shop unit has been taken over by another young entrepreneur who has a vision for a different kind of café, and so the cycle continues.

It is lovely to live and work in an area that supports enterprise, that is not really the point. It is the nature of these start-up businesses that give Heaton its vibrancy. The business owners typically have a vision to offer something slightly different. Something their peer groups will embrace.

There is a small café a few doors away from our office. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, rain, shine or force nine gales, the queue for a table stretches 50 yards down the road. Why? Because it is hip. It is the place to be. And it is in Heaton.

Transport. Jesmond and Heaton are both connected to the Metro and both have a regular bus service. But Heaton bus routes criss-cross the area linking to the city, coast and all hospitals. And unlike Jesmond it is still possible for non residents to park in Heaton.

I accept that comparing Jesmond and Heaton is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, and my tongue is slightly in my cheek here. But I honestly cannot think of another area in our city that I would prefer to live and work in than my beloved Heaton. Long may it continue. At least, may it continue until the massed residents of Jesmond arrive with pitch forks and burning torches.

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