Tyne & Wear

Ashes North East boost predicted to be more than £20m

Durham County Cricket Club chief executive David Harker
Image caption Durham's chief executive David Harker said the club had made a "massive investment"

There is a palpable sense of anticipation hanging over Durham County Cricket Club's Riverside home.

Its first Ashes Test match is almost here. Five days of cricket at Chester-le-Street against the most eagerly-awaited opponent - Australia.

And while the match, set to start on Friday, is being played, it will be quietly doing its bit for the regional economy.

According to Melanie Sensicle, chief executive of tourism body Visit County Durham, the cricket will provide tangible benefits and more than a modest boost to business in the North East, although it is hard to be sure of the final figure.

"We hope to quantify it," she said.

"But talking to the cricket club and doing some studies and some benchmarking it looks like it will be a minimum of £20m that will come into the economy as a result of the Ashes.

"That's people coming here, spending money in hotels, restaurants and bars, as well as going out and seeing the rest of the county while they're here."

'Real buzz'

And it is not just the obvious tourist facilities that will cash in.

Inside Durham's ground, and with fabulous views over the field of play, is a health club and gymnasium run by Dragon's Den star Duncan Bannatyne's fitness company.

It is sited where it is because the cricket club allowed construction within the ground to get enough cash to build a stand for the first Test it hosted, against Zimbabwe back in 2003.

Surprisingly perhaps, the gym will not be closing over the period of the Ashes Test - possibly to the chagrin of spectators who have paid £80 each for their tickets.

However, Colin MacGillivary, regional manager for the North East at Bannatyne Fitness, is looking forward to 17,000 spectators being right on his doorstep every day for five days, walking around the ground, and contemplating joining up.

"The atmosphere in the club changes when there's a cricket match on," he said.

Image caption Melanie Sensicle of Visit County Durham said the cricket will provide tangible benefits

"There's a real buzz around the place, and there's obviously a lot of people visiting the area and the ground itself. So we get people coming in to see what we can offer, so there's a good positive spin-off for new membership opportunities."

'Massive investment'

Durham County Cricket Club itself should make money from hosting the Ashes Test, although it has to pay the game's governing body, the ECB, an undisclosed sum for the privilege of doing so.

The club's chief executive David Harker said: "It is good for us. We do make money on the back of it.

"Clearly, there's a massive investment in originally securing the game and then developing the ground around it.

"It is different to a lot of the one-day stuff that we've had here. That, frankly, doesn't make a great deal of money but is part of the price you pay to be able to have these occasional bigger paydays which keep the ground ticking over for the next cycle of matches."

The hope is though that this Ashes test will help to narrow the £1.2m pound loss Durham reported for its last financial year.

With the rest of the region benefiting to the tune of £20m, it would seem only fair.

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