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New bench allows family memorial to return to North East reservoir

Nov 28, 2023 | Local News

A memorial bench that was stolen from its scenic viewpoint at a County Durham reservoir has been replaced by water workers.

Christine Sewell, from Sherburn Village, Durham, noticed the bench missing when she visited Tunstall Reservoir, near Wolsingham, in Weardale in the Autumn.

The bench had been installed in memory of her parents, John Robinson Coe – known as Bob – and Francis Annie Coe, and uncle, Jack Cave. John had worked planting trees on the land around the reservoir, including those prominent by their position on the roadside, when he was employed by landowners, the Fenwick family.

Until Christine was aged four, the family had lived in Tunstall, and she still returns regularly to visit the area and sit on the bench. The current bench has been in place eight years, having replaced a previous seat that had become weather worn after years of standing proud as a monument to Bob, who was from Wolsingham, and sister and brother Francis and Jack, who hailed from nearby Frosterley.

However, when she noticed the bench missing, she initially thought it had been moved by the team working for Northumbrian Water on a project to deliver resilience upgrades on the dam spillway, in order to protect it from damage. However, this was found not to be the case, and the bench is believed to have been stolen.

As they were working nearby, Northumbrian Water and its partners from Esh-Stantec took the opportunity to replace the bench, and secure it in place, to allow the memories of Bob, Francis and Jack to continue to be honoured.

Christine said: “I was devastated when I found out the bench was missing. It’s been stolen and while I’ve reported it to the police, I don’t think there’s much chance of it being found and returned, so I am incredibly grateful to the people at Northumbrian Water and Esh-Stantec. They’ve been so kind and replaced the bench, so that we once again have a place to sit and remember my parents and Uncle Jack.”

Paul Wood, Northumbrian Water’s Project Manager, said: “All these years on, Bob’s contribution to the beauty of Tunstall is still there to be seen, and we are grateful for that, as I’m sure are all who visit this wonderful location. It would have been a shame to have completed this investment work at the spillway and left site without seeing that the bench was replaced for Christine and others to keep marking the memory of Bob, Francis, and Jack when they visit.”

Christine Taylor, Framework Customer & Service Delivery Manager at Esh-Stantec, said: “Creating a positive legacy within the local communities surrounding our construction sites is deep-rooted in the way we do things at Esh-Stantec.

“The bench was a priceless tribute to the memory of Bob, Francis and Jack, and meant so much to Christine, yet so little to those that stole it. It was our pleasure to support the purchase of a new bench and memorial plaques to reinstate a place of reflection and remembrance for Christine and others to visit for years to come.”

The work on the spillway is a £2.7m investment to ensure the long-term safety of the dam. The project is being delivered by Esh-Stantec on Northumbrian Water’s behalf, and is due to complete in February 2024.