A TOURIST attraction is to undergo its most significant investment in decades.

Crook Hall and Gardens has extended its opening times, taken on more staff and will get a new visitor centre.

The project represents the biggest financial investment since owners Keith and Maggie Bell arrived 18 years ago.

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Mr Bell said: “We want to continue to offer everybody who visits a very similar experience in how they’re looked after and how they enjoy wandering round the gardens and looking at the hall.

“We think the addition of the visitor centre will allow us to continue to make that possible.”

The visitor centre will be at the front entrance, off Frankland Lane, Durham.

It will have a shop, coffee shop and toilets, could have a flat above and Durham County Council granted planning permission on Friday (February 28).

Mr and Mrs Bell hope to have it ready for this winter.

Further, the attraction now employs seven full-time staff.

It remained open throughout winter for the first time this year and in future could open more days each week.

The venue is also hosting more afternoon teas, weddings and other private functions.

Parts of the hall date back to the 13th century, while the gardens cover six acres.

Mr and Mrs Bell, who bought the site 18 years ago and opened it to the public two years later, live in part of the house and can often be found working in the gardens, kitchen or at the gate.

Mr Bell said: “It’s been really enjoyable.

“We realise this (development) will cost quite a lot but we haven’t gone into it lightly. It’s a long-term plan.”

Mrs Bell added: “We’re just custodians of this place. If it’s going to move forward, we’ve got to invest in it.”

The attraction will be open on three Saturdays during March to raise money for charity.

This Saturday’s (March 8) entry charges will go to the Rainbow Trust children’s charity, those from March 15 will go to the Shri Vithalra Joshi Charities Trust and those from March 22 will go to the Multiple Sclerosis charity.

For more information, visit crookhallgardens.co.uk