DOZENS of charities and community groups working with vulnerable and disadvantaged people have spoken of their dismay after been told to get out of an east Durham office building.

Tenants of Lee House in Peterlee, who have enjoyed rent-free premises through the charity Centric Community Projects for more than two years, have been told to vacate the premises by December 31.

They have branded move as Dickensian and have appealed for a meeting with the owners, who have not been named, to discuss getting more time to find alternative premises.

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Joanne Fearn, chief executive of Gateway North East said: “We are really grateful for having had the offices rent-free for so long - it has meant we have had stability and have managed to grow.

“But the timing with Christmas coming - and without warning - up is a major problem.

“We work with children and young people and their families who affected by disabilities and learning difficulties.

“We have holiday schemes running throughout the region over Christmas and will be delivering thousands of Christmas presents to children at hospitals. The impact is going to be massive.

“If we could have a little more time, so we can make other arrangements.”

Alan Sill, editor of NOW East Durham and NOW FM, which provides web design and journalism courses for unemployed young people, said: “We are appealing to the owners to come forward so we can meet and discuss getting some sort of extension.”

Centric Community Projects chief executive Julie Ion said: “We were granted a lease on Lee House in August 2013 by the landlord.

“Since then we have been able to accommodate charities and community organisations within the building at no cost to them.”

The basis of the arrangement with the landlord and consequently the occupiers, was that the use of the building was given for free on condition that notice could be given to vacate within 30 days, she said.

She added: “We have learnt via our agents that the landlord intends to sell the building since it does not fit their portfolio, which comprises industrial buildings. This decision has been reached due to the high cost of keeping the building in use - in excess of £80,000 per annum.

“It saddens us to lose premises, but unfortunately that is the nature of what we provide and how we have been able to help over 600 charities nationwide.”

Any landlords with vacant property in Peterlee or nearby to offer to charities, is urged to contact Ms Ion on 01908 667750.