A MILLION pound project to upgrade the sewer system around a village and protect the surrounding environment brought some additional benefits for residents.

Northumbrian Water replaced almost a mile of sewage pipework which takes waste out of Escomb to Bishop Auckland Sewage Treatment Works, where it is treated.

During the investment work, the team noticed that two benches, on the green space in Dunelm Chare, in Escomb, needed revamping to ensure they can continue to offer relaxation and respite for years to come.

So, partnering with Durham County Council, Northumbrian Water paid for the revamp to be carried out by the local authority's Clean and Green team to thank residents for their patience during the work.

The upgrade– carried out by the company's partner Mott MacDonald Bentley (MMB)– will reduce the chances of pollution from the old pipe, which had reached the end of its life.

As well as the work to restore the benches, Northumbrian Water and MMB also spent time in the summer working with Weardale Railway to paint fences at Bishop Auckland Railway Station, using time given by the water company's employee volunteering programme, Just An Hour.

The company worked with landowners and the Weardale Railway to reduce disruption, using underground drilling to minimise digging in fields and feeding the new pipe through the structure of a footbridge to allow it to cross the heritage railway line and Weardale Railway transported scaffolding on the rail line to the bridge. Northumbrian Water also worked with Durham County Council to agree measures that would make future maintenance of the bridge deck easier.

Northumbrian Water project manager Peter Greenan said: "We place protecting the environment at the heart of our work, and the renewal of the pipeline from Escomb to Bishop Auckland will give additional protection to the village and surrounding areas, reducing the risk of pollution from our network. It was fantastic to work with the team from Weardale Railway on the painting at the train station earlier in the summer, and to be able to partner with Durham County Council's Clean and Green team to have these benches restored was a fitting way to leave a thank you to the community."

Councillor Brian Stephens, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and local partnerships at Durham County Council, said: "Our clean and green team works hard to keep County Durham looking its best and it is wonderful to see businesses in the area supporting us with that task. Providing opportunities for employees to volunteer within the community is a very worthwhile initiative and I would like to thank Northumbrian Water for the valuable contributions it has made in Escomb and Bishop Auckland."

Councillor Rob Yorke, Cllr Stephens' cabinet support member at Durham County Council, added: "We are very grateful for the support we have received from Northumbrian Water. The benches look fantastic and I am sure they will be enjoyed by Escomb residents for many years to come."