The Northern Echo's campaign which is "working for a future" has had a good start, and it's vital that a difference is made after a string of body blows on the jobs front.

Of course, there's a real need to protect and revive manufacturing, but the progress that's being made in the service sector is well worth celebrating.

My home town of Hartlepool is a classic example of course. With the disappearance of much of the shipbuilding and heavy engineering, there were some very dark days of dereliction and despair before the big positive changes came through. The story has been well documented, and you probably saw that the town's Historic Quay won another award at the Pride of Northumbria ceremony recently. Remarkably, something like one in six people in Hartlepool now work in tourism related activity, and that would have seemed highly unlikely not many years ago.

If you're looking for another good news story, let me introduce you to the Sleep Inn, recently opened just off Junction 59 of the A1M, between Newton Aycliffe and Darlington.

I first saw this project a few months ago when I was there for an outside broadcast just before it was completed, and it's impressive. They have 84 very large rooms as well as a good quality restaurant and conference facilities. The man behind it is Paresh Kotecha who was the mastermind behind the development of Slaley Hall in Northumberland back in 1995. He clearly understands this business very well, and it seems to me that they are hitting a very good gap in the market. It's really about giving the modern traveller everything that's required, without charging for those things which are surplus to requirements.

The Operations Director, John Deighan, is a real enthusiast who takes genuine pride in the space and facilities offered by his new rooms. He and his colleagues have obviously looked hard at the current market offering and improved on it significantly.

A real strength of the hotel was very evident when I was there last weekend, and it's a unique selling point which is very valuable for the North East economy. Quite simply, the people who work there have a genuine warmth of welcome and desire to succeed which, sadly, is not always evident in the hospitality business.

The Sleep Inn is preparing for its VIP opening on Friday, and it could be the first of many. Paresh Kotecha tells me that this new facility at Newton Park will be the first of a nationwide chain, and, given his success at Slaley Hall, who's to doubt him?

For more information go to and then click on Newton Aycliffe.

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It's that time of year when I spend half my life in a dinner suit, and I'm particularly looking forward to some rather special fashion shows which I'll be compering next week at Newcastle Civic Centre.

They've been organised to promote Breast Cancer Awareness and promise to be fantastic occasions. A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of compering two similar events at Alnwick Castle, and anyone who was there will tell you of the strength and passion of the performers.

One young woman in particular cast a spell on everyone who saw her at Alnwick. Ruth Sykes was a fantastic character who coped with amazing resilience after being diagnosed as having a terminal cancer condition. Her mother's ambition was to see young Ruth in a wedding dress, and choreographer Peter Darrant did the job of his life in creating a stunning scene.

Ruth came down that catwalk looking beautiful and when she reached the end I was supposed to interview her. I couldn't.

For nearly five minutes, and I've never seen it at a fashion show before or since, there was a standing ovation. When I was eventually able talk to Ruth she said it had been the night of her life.

Sadly, Ruth passed away a few months later, but she left much of her strength to many people who met her.

Next Thursday's show is already sold out, but there are a few £10 tickets left for Wednesday evening (23rd) if you're quick. Talk to Sorted PR on 0191 242 0001.

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Like most people, I guess you get a fair bit of junk among your email collection every day, but now and again the snowstorm provides a jewel.

I had such a treasure the other day from an American friend Bennie Walters, more of whom in a future column.

I'm not quite sure how they did it, but it's a simply beautiful picture of the Earth taken from the Boeing Space Station last November on a perfect night with no obscuring atmospheric conditions. Do take a look at

Published: 16/10/2002