JUST a year ago, the a i r- c o n d i t i o n e d , modern offices at BizHub Tees Valley, in Billingham, were tired, old and, worst of all, more than half empty.

A year can be a long time in business.

The three buildings, or pavilions, at the centre made up part of the wider Belasis Hall Technology Park and had been run by administrators from May 2015 to March last year.

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The remaining tenants were uncertain of the future, unsure of whether their premises would remain open at all.

“It was pretty much at rock bottom,” recalls Ryan Barber, sales and operations manager at the M20 Property Group, which took over the centre and has invested more than £500,000 so far.

“We knew it would take more than a bit of paint here and there.

“Today, I think it’s fair to say, that we have one of the best business centres around.

“It has been transformed.”

Mr Barber revealed that occupancy was at 45 per cent when M20 took over.

Today it is at 75 per cent and continuing to rise.

There are more than 30 tenants at the BizHub, ranging in size from start-up businesses from the local area to regional, national and international organisations.

Two of the pavilions have been refurbished and plans are already in place for the third.

The renovation has included new high-spec, flexible office space, professional reception services, new carpets and new furniture.

Money has also been invested into the site’s IT infrastructure with visitors now able to access WiFi services throughout the building.

However, Jim McFadyn, BizHub’s centre manager, stressed that it was going to clients and asking what they wanted that made the biggest difference in ensuring the renovation was successful.

He said: “We talked to our existing tenants first of all.

“We had a big client with the Red Driving School.

“We effectively gave them a blank piece of paper and said, ‘what do you want? Show us your dream office.’ “When we got the feedback we set about delivering it.

“That’s a business with a real, national reach that has its headquarters right here on Teesside.

“It’s a success story for us, but also the entire region.”

Ian McIntosh, chief executive at Red Driving School, confirmed his organisation was allowed serious input in the renovation and design, and the company occupies an entire building.

The installation of air-conditioning and a new office layout has consolidated the business’ commitment to the area.

He said: “It’s fantastic for us.

“The landlord completely gutted it and we are really happy with the results.

“I’m sitting in my office looking at trees and grass and there’s an excellent café just 200 yards away but, at the same time, we’re in the heart of the area with the A19 nearby and other excellent transport links.

“We operate from the north of Scotland down to the south coast, so it’s actually a central location for us.

“It’s good to consolidate here.”

Mark Bates, director of vehicle hire firm Quorum Fleet Solutions, explained his company was based at the centre before the renovation work.

He said: “When I knew it was going to be regenerated, we were delighted and decided to take bigger offices.

“It’s central for us, it’s secure, it’s safe and it’s just a pleasant place to be.

“We’ve signed up for more time here.

“Our clients and associates are always really impressed when they come.”

Belasis is one of a number of BizHub business centres that were bought at the same time as others in Hull, Barnsley, Liverpool and Dudley.

A key attraction for businesses has been the improvements to the internet and phone system, which has included bringing a dedicated lease line into the building.

That has involved rewiring the whole centre as it was previously not capable of supporting fibre.

Opening and supporting the café themselves and ensuring plentiful parking has also encouraged existing tenants to stay at the centre and new ones to move in.

Mr Barber’s colleague at M20, James Pickles, director, added that working with the region’s wider business community and institutions had also been important and explained his company was making a long-term commitment to the region.

As part of that commitment, a special re-launch event for the centre, involving the Mayor of Stockton, Councillor Maurice Perry, will take place on Tuesday, April 25 between 8am and 10.30am.

There will be a chance for businesses from across the region to network at the event, as well as tour the buildings.

Mr Pickles said: “We have positioned ourselves as much as possible to be friendly to start-up businesses. That involves offering flexible lease arrangements with no start-up costs and we are working in partnership with the business development arm of Tees Valley Combined Authority.

“We’ve also joined the North East England Chamber of Commerce and we’re planning to involve ourselves in their events.”

It was a blow to the region when a modern business centre capable of attracting national and international businesses went into administration in 2015. However, that failure has been turned into a major success with a company committed to the future of the region.