THE couple behind a social enterprise in Bishop Auckland have revealed their plans to extend the community venture to attract veterans and youngsters.

Steve and Tracey Hopper opened the Bishop Auckland Social Enterprise (BASE), on Newgate Street, in October to give budding businesses a platform to start out and grow.

And now the community-minded pair, who have a five-year lease on the property, are in the throes of planning the large upstairs space. The ground floor of the building can already accommodate 20 businesses and a cafe, run by Willow Burn Hospice, but Mr and Mrs Hopper are hoping to use the first floor space as an art studio for veterans, as a home to a youth club and a bargain price meeting area.

Mr Hopper said: “When I moved back to the area (after 50 years) I was shocked when I saw the state of Newgate Street because you couldn’t even walk down the street without getting knocked off the pavement at one point.

“We thought what could we do to improve and had the idea of taking on a big building and renting out the spaces to hopefully encourage little cottage industries to grow.

“There are also two huge rooms upstairs. One will be a youth club and one will be for ex military personnel.

“We’ll have meeting rooms and hopefully they’ll be of some use to the public.”Mr Hopper had the idea of launching a youth club following a conversation with his 16-year-old son who told his father he and his friends kept being moved on by police in Bishop Auckland.

Following a conversation between his son and a police officer, and with help from a youth worker who has expressed an interest in the project, Mr Hopper hopes to arrange meetings and eventually launch a youth club.

In the meantime he is in discussions with artist Ferguson Matthews who currently sells his works from the shop.

Mr Hopper is proposing to create a studio space where veterans can learn to paint.

He said: “I’ve been in touch with The Beacon (at Catterick Garrison) and Changing Step North East.

“Both deal with ex military personnel and have found that guys are suffering from PTSD. They can be quiet and withdrawn but put a paint brush in their hand and they can start talking and painting pictures.

Anyone interested in BASE can call 07902902925 or email stevehopper2@yahoo.co.uk