New learning space to be created in Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone

 (c) Barry Pells

(c) Barry Pells

Work is starting to transform one of County Durham’s oldest buildings into a new learning space. The West Mural Tower, in the grounds of Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland, dates back to at least the 15th century and was built as a defensive gatehouse guarding the original main entrance to the Castle when it was home to the Prince Bishops of Durham.

Now, the Grade I listed building is being rescued from decades of deterioration and decay as part of The Auckland Project visitor destination project, with support from Historic England’s local Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) scheme. David Ronn, Project Manager at The Auckland Project, said: “The West Mural Tower has been through many incarnations in its 500 year history, including as a gatehouse for access to Auckland Castle and a cottage for those taking care of the Deer Park. “It has fallen into disrepair over the last century but we’ve been working hard with Historic England and Durham County Council in the past year to make the building safe. We are now looking forward to giving it a totally new lease of life and making it functional for people to use and enjoy.”

The transformation of West Mural Tower is being funded primarily by The Auckland Project, with a £50,000 grant from Historic England as part of the Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone scheme and £5,000 from the Architectural Heritage Fund. Catherine Dewar, Historic England’s Planning Director for the North East and North West said: “This is a really special, and somewhat hidden, building in the town and so we’re delighted to see that progress is being made to repair it as it has been on our Heritage at Risk Register for some time. “We hope that our funding and specialist advice will help to secure a brighter future for this important, grade I listed structure as part of our wider work in Bishop Auckland’s Heritage Action Zone.”

Bishop Auckland is one of 18 locations across the UK to have been granted Heritage Action Zone status and will benefit from a five-year programme designed to reinvigorate its historic Market Place, high streets and other parts of the conservation area. It is being delivered by Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone in partnership with Durham County Council and the Brighter Bishop Auckland Regeneration Partnership.

Cllr Carl Marshall, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “We are pleased to be able to support the restoration of this historic building, bringing it back into use and removing it from the ‘at risk’ register. It’s also of particular significance as it’s the first major capital project to be taken on as part of the Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone programme. “Over the next five years, the initiative will see us working with the owners of other buildings around the town centre to bring vacant properties back into use and increase economic activity in the area.”

Liz Dollimore, Head of Learning for The Auckland Project, said: “The Auckland Project already offers a variety of life-enriching programmes for all ages, which we will expand as more of the destination opens over the next two years. “Spaces like The West Mural Tower offer us a unique, additional facility to help deliver activities on site, as well as to work with people from our local community. We are delighted that the process has already started with the recruitment of three volunteers who will follow the transformation through to fruition.”

For more information about The Auckland Project, visit www.aucklandproject.org