Planning without permission

Oldfields Restaurant on Claypath, Durham

The well-known restaurant on Claypath in Durham

Driving back from London late one Sunday evening a few weeks ago, I found the A1 closed for maintenance somewhere in the depths of Northamptonshire or Nottinghamshire or some other such sounding place. Annoying. You somehow think that because you’ve chosen a quiet time to travel, you can control the long journey and arrive home at approximately the time you’ve estimated. But I couldn’t because some external factor had got in the way in the shape of hundreds of traffic cones and a confusion of glowing yellow diversion signs.

So driving into the dark unknown rural diversion recommended by the signs, I obviously looked for a quicker way to get back to the A1 north of the blockage because, in my wisdom, I thought I knew better than those pesky maintenance contractors. I didn’t. And only had this confirmed some hour or two later as I overtook a number of slow moving trucks that I’d passed earlier, just north of the M25.

But I got back safely, albeit rather later and slightly more tired than I’d planned, and have since reflected that the drive was a mini allegory of the way I experience life: I set out with certain objectives and plans to achieve them; life produces some surprises; I make decisions to cope with these changes; I generally achieve what I wanted – but not as successfully as I wanted. It’s like how I swim – just managing not to drown.

But I’m not moaning. It’s how most small business owners experience life. Because they’re not big enough to challenge the world in which they find themselves, they have to use coping strategies in order to deal best with those things that world throws at them. To reuse the swimming metaphor: you know you can swim in the sea but the sea doesn’t even begin to notice you and sends you an occasional big wave just to make you splutter and have to try that bit harder. You still get to where you wanted but maybe a bit later, more tired and more full of salt water than you planned.

And we’ve now got another wave to swim over/around/under. You may have read in the Northern Echo and its sister papers that the building we rent, in which we house our restaurant in Durham, has been sold to a developer. This week they received planning permission to demolish a number of buildings in Claypath, including ours, in order to build quite a lot of accommodation for students. And so, to the average newspaper reader, it might appear that we’re about to up sticks and move or close. Which would be unfortunate because we have seven or eight years of a protected lease to run and so, as far as we are concerned, our restaurant continues as normal, unless we can come to some agreement with the developers so that we can move the restaurant to an equal, or better, location.

Most people who know us think of us as a restaurant operation, which we are – but only partly. We also run Seaham Town Hall where we put on entertainment evenings, host weddings, christenings and funerals for up to 300 people at a time, as well as numerous birthday and anniversary celebrations – providing the food and the booze; all under the name of Oldfields. People come to Seaham Town Hall because of our restaurant.

We also cater at the lovely Shotton Hall for banquets and buffets up to a similar number. We provide outside catering at amazing Grade 1 listed places such as Durham Town Hall, Crook Hall on the outskirts of Durham city centre and Seaton Holme in Easington Village while producing and promoting our range of ready meals – all of which are built upon, and supported by, our restaurant in Durham.

So we’re more than initially meets the eye. But so are our new landlords, the developers. Known as Student Castle they’re owned by some pretty wealthy people, not least the amazingly successful Sir Charles Dunstone of Carphone Warehouse and Talk Talk fame.

So, to mix my metaphors, we’ve an interesting journey ahead: we either follow the road I’d planned for the next seven or so years or we follow a negotiated diversion. Or we try swimming over, around or under a rather large wave. Anyone wish to train me in the use of an aqualung?           Previously published as Bill’s Bites in the Northern Echo



  1. luineiffel · · Reply

    I’m so sorry to hear that. As a former student in Durham University, I see the Oldfield as a landmark in the city. Although I didn’t go there as often as I wished, I have cherishable memorries from the few dining experiences. I still miss the tranquil streets in Durham, yet I know there is more behind the idyll, as I have witnessed the conflicts between the uni and the city. I wish you all the luck in the world. It will be shameful if the city lost this jewel.

  2. This is not good news Bill. The replacement of bars and restaurants, hotels and shops with more student accommodation in the city centre reduces the reasons to visit Durham. This kind of development is not going to grow the visitor economy or extend the stay of those that visit already. Outside of term time Durham will become a ghost town with no activity to draw in visitors.

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