A GENEROUS donation by a philanthropist to a charitable foundation has so far helped nearly 200 people find work.

The Learning Working Earning Scheme was created by the County Durham Community Foundation after financier Jonathan Ruffer and his wife Jane handed over £1m in August 2012.

Although some of the funding was put towards a community health initiative, the rest has been used, together with a further donation from Mr Ruffer last year, to help 196 people into employment.

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Mr Ruffer is in the process of transforming Auckland Castle, in Bishop Auckland, into a major tourist attraction and Christian Heritage Centre.

He and his wife he made the donation to the County Durham Community Foundation because they are passionate about supporting regeneration in deprived areas.

The Foundation has ensured the Learning Working Earning Scheme is as flexible as possible, allowing for variety in the way funding is allocated.

It has no age limit, although it found a clear need to help 16 to 18-year-olds.

The funding has been used for apprenticeships and other work-based training programmes. Grants have also been made available to pay for anything that might prevent someone taking up employment, such as transport, childcare and specialist clothing.

Speaking at an event to celebrate the success of the scheme at Auckland Castle on Thursday (March 20), chairman of the County Durham Community Foundation, Mark I’anson said: “So far we have got 196 people into work, potentially transforming their lives.

"There were no restrictions with the money, we were told to do what we thought was right. When we had come up with a plan we agreed it with them.

"Mr and Mrs Ruffer have done more than enough, including funding a second year but that has now gone. It would be unreasonable to ask them again.

"We do need to raise more money. We hope we can appeal to other funders. This scheme has had a greater impact than we imagined."

Barbara Gubbins, chief executive of the County Durham Community Foundation, added: "When we launched the scheme we didn't know what the take up would be. It has succeeded expectations."