While it may have been quiet in Middlesbrough town centre of late, time certainly hasn’t stood still.
The impact of Covid-19 has turned routines upside down and confined most people to their homes.
But the centre of the town is set to be transformed in the months and years ahead.
Leading the change will be the imposing new campus of the Northern School of Art, which is already sprouting up next door to Sainsbury’s.
The art college, due to welcome students from September, will be one of the first completed works of a bolder Middlesbrough.
The town centre and nearby digital zone, Boho, are merging, with a new emphasis being placed on urban living and leisure time.
This reimagining of central Middlesbrough was the focus of bids to the Towns Fund and Future High Streets Fund.
The vision of mayor Andy Preston and Middlesbrough Council is for thousands more homes and a revamped leisure offering on the doorstep of a thriving digital sector.
Taking centre stage will be the repurposing of Captain Cook Square. Plans for the retail square are being fine-tuned following the council’s successful £14.1m bid to the Future High Streets Fund.
Put simply, Middlesbrough town centre is going to be a place people want to go to.
Mayor Preston is excited to see a remodelled town emerge.
“A successful 21st-century centre needs three activities on a big scale: living, working and leisure,” he said. “So central Middlesbrough will do all of those in a big way and be very successful – watch this process start in the coming 12 months.
“Nowhere will put this money to work better than us – we will create new jobs, new energy and a new spirit.
“The council has already bought Captain Cook Square and we now have the money to transform this key part of Middlesbrough town centre.
“We have plans for empty units in and around Captain Cook Square and the heart of the town centre. We are in detailed discussions with a cinema operator and bowling alley operator and are developing a really exciting concept focused on food and music.
“This is an idea that’s proving a huge success in some of the bigger cities and we’re learning from them, with the aim of improving on it to drive hundreds of thousands of people into the centre of Middlesbrough for leisure.
“We’ve got the money, the ideas and the interest from investors and operators. It’s a massive opportunity.”
When the world returns to a sense of normality, hundreds of workers will get their bearings in new offices in Centre Square. Employees of First Source, XPS and Causeway will be the first to set up camp in the shadows of mima.
Among the plans are for the old Captain Cook pub “over the border” to be saved from falling down and to complement new homes and businesses in that part of town.
Middlesbrough Railway Station is subject to a £35m transformation that will include direct trains to London and a brilliant environment for travellers.
Work on Boho 8 offices are weeks from completion and they are already let due to Middlesbrough’s thriving digital sector, which was founded on the good work of Teesside University. This means new – often multi-million-pound turnover – businesses keep popping up in the town due to intrepid Teesside entrepreneurs.
Following that will be Boho X – a landmark office building to form the centrepiece of Middlesbrough’s digital expansion plans and then a new secondary school that has a focus on digital skills.
Five sites have already been declared set for new housing that will see more than 600 new homes built on brownfield land and Middlehaven will also be home to a new community farm, as it was around 150 years ago.
Mayor Preston added: “Middlesbrough is amazing and it also has challenges. We’re facing those issues head on and building a really exciting future.
“We will not play second fiddle to places like Newcastle. Give us 10 years and we will take them on.”
By the middle of summer, commuters will have a new focal point on their journeys to and from town.
The art college will be the start of Middlesbrough’s new chapter.
Covid-19 has accelerated the need to futureproof town centres.
Middlesbrough Council is working flat out to force change, build strength in the town’s urban core and encourage a resilient and varied town-centre economy.