THE month of November saw a refurbished theatre celebrated its first birthday with several awards recognising its architectural excellence.

Darlington Hippodrome underwent a multi-million-pound revamp 12 months prior that turned the Grade II-listed Civic Theatre into a 21st Century entertainment venue.

The project was a regional finalist in the Civic Trust Awards (CTA), which recognise outstanding architecture, planning and design in the built environment; and in the Selwyn Goldsmith Award, also run by the CTA.

In the 12 months, the theatre sold 162,851 tickets after staging 358 performances since its reopening, as well as serving 16,179 coffees, 21,784 pints of beer or cider, 2,535 locally-baked scones and 42,384 ice creams.

Theatre director Lynda Winstanley confirmed shows were already booked in the diary as far ahead as 2021.

She said: “I think it was obvious to people we had some things that were holding us back a little bit.

“The theatre now is well positioned to take theatre forward to new generations of theatre goers that is for sure and to play a role in the cultural life of the Tees Valley.

“Everyone would like to be the best. I think there are very few historic theatres remaining in the country so we are one of a very few probably from the Edwardian era that are still operating largely unchanged.

“I think we are a significant national theatre and we remain a very popular venue for touring companies.”

Meanwhile, a sweet shop’s entire stock was seized in a drug raid which saw a quantity of white powder, suspected to be amphetamine, confiscated during the operation.

Police carried out a pre-planned strike on the shop premises in South Moor, near Stanley following intelligence from the local community. Officers removed dozens of jars and boxes of confectionery from the shop as a precautionary measure to ensure contaminated sweets did not find their way into the hands of children.

Dave Clarke, of Stanley Police, who led the operation, said: “This is a shop which sold sweets to children.

“Families with children were regular customers at the premises, which is right in the heart of the village and straight opposite a nursery.

“We have confiscated the contents of the shop because we couldn’t take the risk that some of those loose sweets might become contaminated with a potentially dangerous substance.”

At that time, the wife of jailed academic Matthew Hedges said she won assurances that the Government was “now standing up for one of its citizens” after a meeting at the capital.

Daniela Tejada condemned the Foreign Office over the handling of the case of 31-year-old PhD student Matthew Hedges, ahead of her meeting with the Foreign Secretary.

She accused the ministers of putting relations with the UAE before her husband’s freedom.

Mrs Tejada left a Foreign Office meeting more confident the Government was working in the couple’s favour.

She said: “I really appreciate the Foreign Secretary taking the time to meet me at this crucial point in Matt’s life.

“He has assured me that he and his team are doing everything in their power to get Matt free and return him home to me.

“This is not a fight I can win alone, and I thank the Foreign Office and the British public for now standing up for one of their citizens.”

On November 26, UAE officials announces Mr Hedges had been pardoned, and would be freed. Officials in the Gulf state issued the pardon as part of a series of orders on the country's National Day anniversary.

However, a spokesman said Mr Hedges was "100% a secret service operative".

Mrs Tejada said she was "elated" and "can't wait to have him back home".

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK government had "never seen any evidence" the spying charges were true.

Meanwhile Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visited the region to show support for the party’s parliamentary candidate for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Lauren Dingsdale.

After laying flowers at a memorial seat in honour of his friend and former MP for the area Ashok Kumar, Mr Corbyn travelled on the Victorian cliff lift down onto the promenade.

He spoke about local issues, including the neighbouring SSI site redevelopment and renewable energy projects.

Mr Corbyn also spoke on Brexit and said he was dismissive of the plan put forward by Prime Minister Theresa May.

And heroic neighbours rushed to a woman’s aid after she was found on fire outside her home. Residents on Acklam Road in Middlesbrough were alerted by the desperate screams of a man believed to be the woman’s husband.

It was believed the man had smashed a window belonging to a neighbouring property in a frantic attempt to seek help after his partner caught fire in undetermined circumstances. Several people came to the aid of the stricken woman and did what they could to save her before the emergency services arrived.

One witness said his thoughts were with those affected by the horrific incident, adding: “It was horrendous, I’ve never seen anything like it, her clothing had come away and people were trying to put her out and cool her burns.

“I think one person was a first aider and they were shouting for someone to bring cling-film while others went into the house to help in there.”

The woman was taken to James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and then transferred to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, where she died from her injuries four days later.