FISHBURN is a village which is fighting back.

Like many other former mining communities in County Durham, Fishburn has been through some hard times.

The closure of the pit and coke works, with resultant high levels of unemployment and the gradual loss of amenities, led to the loss of a less tangible resource - community spirit.

But far from sitting back and accepting their lot, people in Fishburn are determined to improve their surroundings, and they say their efforts are succeeding.

One man who is proud to have played his part in helping to revive the village is house- builder Alex Chater.

His company, Alexander Developments, built the Manor Park estate, and more areas of affordable housing are planned.

He said: "We are working in all the former mining communities, where the national companies consider them unmarketable and unviable. They have been proved wrong.

"People have different views, but in all the places we have gone to work in, the regeneration is housing-led."

Mr Chater said: "The market in Fishburn is for people who used to live here who want to come back. Now they've got properties they want to buy.

"We have now got not only former Fishburn residents moving back to the village, we have got people from Manchester, Birmingham, London and all over.

"They retire from the hustle and bustle of the big cities and never move back.

"These people walk about with pride and say 'we now live in Fishburn'. That began a few years ago, and it is gathering momentum."

Mr Chater has more than a passing interest in the village, because he was born and raised in Fishburn.

His commitment to the village is demonstrated by his purchase of the old school.

He is developing the building, which will eventually become his firm's headquarters.

But it is not just housing which attracts people to a village, and residents are pulling together to make sure there is a lot more to offer.

Parish councillor Christine Luke said she has seen local people getting more involved in projects which are improving the village.

One ongoing scheme is a feasibility study on whether a sports pavilion can be built on the village football field.

Mrs Luke said: "For the amount of people we have in the village, the facilities we have got are not up to standard, so we need this feasibility study.

"If we have this pavilion, it could be used for netball, tennis, football and all sorts of other sports."

The community spirit was also evident recently in the County Durham Tidy Village Competition, which the village won for the first time in years.

Fundraising is currently under way for a bronze statue of a miner to stand on the village green.

Hopes are high that there will be a number of job opportunities for villagers with the building of business units on the former Winterton Hospital site.

Mr Chater said he has seen a change for the better in recent years.

"In the 60s and 70s that community spirit disappeared and I think its important to try and get that back," he said.

"But it is coming back. Every year there is something changing. It is moving on all the time."

Keith Wilkes, who has lived in the village all of his life, is perhaps one of the best placed to comment on the recent changes.

He, too, can see the old community spirit coming back to the village.

"Fishburn has changed drastically. For example, when I first came here there were no roads on to the council estate," he said.

"We had the welfare, where we used to go dancing, and the picture house, where we used to go three or four times a week.

"We had the operatic society, there was a cricket team, and there used to be a putting green. All that has gone now."

But Mr Wilkes said he sensed the village was getting back on its feet.

"Now I walk around the village with the dogs and the young ones say 'hello' to me, and I don't even know who they are," he said.

"There is a long way to go, but things are definitely changing for the better