Castle restoration work takes regional award

Jan 3, 2022 | Leisure & Lifestyle

Work to revitalise a medieval castle in County Durham has won a regional award.

Auckland Castle, in Bishop Auckland, is one of the most significant complexes of medieval buildings in England.  As a favoured residence of the bishops of Durham for at least 800 years, it has international significance for archaeology, architecture and landscape and is one of the last surviving episcopal palaces, overlooking the medieval deer park.

In 2011 Durham County Council and Historic England produced the Auckland Castle Conservation Statement, which identified and defined the importance of the building and acknowledged its international heritage significance.

In 2012, philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer acquired the castle and established the charitable organisation, Auckland Castle Trust, which operates as The Auckland Project. Over the course of the next couple of years, the council worked with The Auckland Project to develop plans to conserve and restore the castle and for it to become the anchor for the new visitor attraction.

Planning and listed building consent was acquired in 2015. Following construction, the castle reopened to the public in November 2019.

Following a joint submission by the council and The Auckland Project, the restoration work has been named Overall Winner in the Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) North East Awards for Planning Excellence 2021.

The restoration work has already led to a number of other buildings across Bishop Auckland being brought back into use to support the attraction including The Spanish Gallery and The Mining Art Gallery, as well as new buildings being constructed, such as the Auckland Tower and Faith Museum. The project has also acted as a catalyst for wider regeneration of Bishop Auckland town centre.

The awards submission had to focus on the following criteria:

  • Outcomes for people and communities
  • Planning contribution
  • Outcomes for climate change
  • Outcomes for sustainable development
  • Community engagement
  • Leading practice
  • The project’s significance to the North East.

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “We are delighted that restoration work at Auckland Castle has been recognised with this award. Revitalising the castle and protecting its status as a significant heritage site so that it can be enjoyed by visitors for many years to come is hugely important to us, helping to further improve the cultural offering in County Durham as we look to be named UK City of Culture 2025.”

The council has established a regeneration partnership board, which includes Durham University, Bishop Auckland College and the local enterprise agency. The authority and its partners have also been successful in getting Bishop Auckland town centre designated as a Heritage Action Zone, which has helped to obtain £53million for the area in funding from the government through its Future High Streets Fund and Town Deal programmes.

The overall vision is to boost the county’s visitor economy, helping the bid for County Durham to be named UK City of Culture in 2025, with the county recently announced as making the shortlist in the competition.

Liz Fisher, place and purpose director at The Auckland Project, said: “I am delighted that the restoration of Auckland Castle has won such a prestigious award. It was an exciting project to be part of and the award recognises everyone’s hard work and commitment to the regeneration of Bishop Auckland.”

The Right Reverend Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham and chair of Bishop Auckland Regeneration Partnership, said: “Auckland Castle holds such a significance within the Church of England, a medieval symbol of our religious journey in the North East.

“This recent restoration ensures that the Christian and wider community will continue to visit Bishop Auckland and be inspired by this religious landmark. I am thrilled that Auckland Castle has received this award, and feel comfort knowing it is being revitalised for future generations.”