AMBITIOUS plans to restore a Victorian park to its former glory will go ahead, thanks to a £2.45m Lottery grant announced today (Wednesday, January 8).

Proposals to breathe new life into Wharton Park, in Durham City, have been several years in the making.

But the £3m renovation, including a new heritage centre, cafe and outdoor fitness equipment and improvements to the park’s amphitheatre, miniature car track, footpaths, signs and entrances, was dependant on securing the cash needed.

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Today, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Big Lottery Fund have announced a £2.45m grant, meaning plans can now be finalised and building work is expected to begin later this year.

Ivor Crowther, head of HLF North East, said: “This investment will help unlock the potential of Wharton Park so it can be restored and opened up for people to enjoy.”

Councillor Maria Plews, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for libraries, leisure and lifelong learning, said it was fantastic news that everyone should celebrate, while her cabinet colleague Neil Foster, who holds the economic regeneration brief, praised the Friends of Wharton Park and others for their support.

“We will continue to work together to make Wharton Park a heritage asset for Durham and a special place which we can all be proud of,” Coun Foster added.

The 4.3-hectare park, one of the oldest in the region, was opened to the public by WL Wharton in 1858 as the People’s Park and it hosted the first Durham Miners’ Gala in 1871.

Nineteenth century philosopher John Ruskin described its spectacular views of Durham Cathedral as the eighth wonder of the world.

However, over many years it has become forgotten and underused.

Its restoration, the plans for which have expanded considerably since they were first announced and valued at £1.3m in 2010, will create new jobs and apprenticeships and a programme of events and activities is planned.

The project has involved the council, the Friends, Durham Area Action Partnership, Durham Agency Against Crime and others.