AS far as market towns go, they don’t come much better than the jewel in the Tyne Valley’s crown.

Whether you’re a local history enthusiast, a film or theatre-goer, a self-confessed foodie, or a lover of the great outdoors, Hexham has got something for everyone.

Now they say don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but something which was once taken for granted has threatened to take the limelight away from the town’s 7th century Abbey, the old gaol, and other historical gems.

Hexham town centre, once bustling with shops and shoppers, has looked sparse in places due to empty shops and buildings over the past few years.

This deterioration was accelerated in 2016, when the bus station moved to a new site at Loosing Hill, and reached its pinnacle in February of this year, when Hexham’s once mighty department store, Beales, formerly Robb’s, closed its doors after 130 years at its prominent site, on Fore Street.

Yet despite this backdrop of eerie emptiness, independent traders have gone about their business impressively.

Those offering essential goods and services, provided so diligently for residents during their hour of need, when lockdown began in March.

Many others joined suit on July 4, when non-essential shops were allowed to reopen, and made a major contribution to the local economy during what has been an enormously challenging and unprecedented year.

It is quickly becoming evident that something positive has started to happen – to quite literally build a bright new future to complement the hard work and dedication of existing businesses and organisations in Hexham.

In June, the bleak boarded-up outer walls of the former Beales department store, were covered up by artwork images.

Northumberland County Council said the artwork gave a flavour of the future for the expansive premises, which could mean a mixture of retail, leisure and residential use.

The local authority, and its regeneration company, Advance Northumberland, said it was working with Buccleuch Property, the current owners of the building, with the aim of bringing forward a joint scheme to breathe new life into the site and surrounding areas.

The council also said it was looking to secure a positive future for the old bus station, which dates back to the 1930s. It comes after an initial plan, by developer Dysart, for a retail and apartment scheme at the site, failed to materialise.

Elsewhere, two other prominent buildings are being redeveloped for very different uses to what they became known for. The Victorian-built Hexham Wool Warehouse, on Gilesgate, which served as the town’s swimming pool between 1974 and 2008, has just been demolished to make way for 45 new flats.

Work has started at the historic former Workhouse site, on Corbridge Road, as part of a scheme to build 34 residential flats, and 43 retirement homes.

Neil Wilkinson, a board member of Hexham Community Partnership, said he was pleased to see progress being made, and did not see the creation of housing at former industrial sites as a negative.

“It’s bringing new life into the town,” he said. “People living in the new homes will use the existing shops and services.”

The new homes will be complemented by another ongoing scheme, with new school buildings being constructed at the existing Queen Elizabeth High School site.