Having been bubbling away since last year, a project aimed at promoting volunteerism in Darlington is set to make a big impact this year. Andy Walker reports.

THE inspiration for Darlington Cares was sparked in early 2012 and is starting to bear fruit.

Businesses in the private sector came together with Darlington Borough Council and Teesside University to talk about employee volunteering and so-called ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR).

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The aim was to co-ordinate resources to address specific needs in the Darlington community, particularly in more disadvantaged areas.

Readers may have already Darlington Cares mentioned in the pages of The Northern Echo, without fully realising what the initiative is all about.

Established in October, Darlington Cares works with organisations including Darlington Partnership, One Darlington and eVOLution to identify projects and build a volunteering programme across four key areas: environment, community, children and young people and the elderly.

Chaired by Teesside University’s deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Cliff Hardcastle, the project has already been backed by a string of Darlington’s leading employers, who have signed up as founder members.

As well as the university, they include: Cummins, Darlington Borough Council, Deep Ocean Group, Lingfield Point owners Marchday, the NHS, Sherwoods and Newsquest, the company which publishes The Northern Echo.

The programme is managed by Katie Blundell, who is based at the university’s Darlington campus.

She is charged with delivering voluntary schemes under the Darlington Cares banner and encouraging as many employers as possible to sign up to the project, which has funding until October 2014.

Miss Blundell said: “We match the interests, skills and expertise of our members to a number of volunteering opportunities with local charity and community projects.

“The more businesses that get involved, the more we can do and the more impact Cares will have.

“Part of the Cares ethos is joining up business with the community.”

Projects already carried out in the name of Darlington Cares include a Secret Santa collection for needy youngsters and a Christmas party in a residential home.

Among the charities and community projects working with Darlington Cares are: First Stop, YMCA Young Carers, Age UK, the Foundation for Jobs, Local Motion, Darlington Credit Union, Groundwork North-East, the Forum Music Centre and Darlington Association on Disability.

Also on board is the council-run Bridge Centre for Visual Arts, in Yarm Road, which will benefit from a voluntary project later this year.

The work will see uneven and overgrown land outside the centre flattened and smartened up to give a more attractive appearance.

Miss Blundell added: “Our programmes – which range from physical challenges through to utilising business expertise - deliver tangible benefits for local people and opportunities for workforce development for employers.

“We offer Darlington employers a wide range of volunteering team challenges throughout the year in addition to annual schemes.”

For more information, follow @darlingtoncares on Twitter or visit facebook.com/darlingtoncares A dedicated website – darlingtoncares.co.uk – will be launched shortly.