A NEW charity fund to help combat loneliness amongst the elderly in County Durham has been launched following an anonymous donation of £150,000.

County Durham Community Foundation has matched the donation to form the "Enriching Later Life Programme" which will offer grants of up to £20,000 for organisations working with older people to make them feel more valued and engaged.

The Community Foundation's outgoing chief executive, Barbara Gubbins, announced the new fund at a celebration event to mark a new era for the organisation, which has given out more than £35m to good causes since 1995.

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Last year, the Community Foundation gave out a record £3.5m and now manages 215 charitable funds.

The Next Chapter event, which took place at Easington Social Welfare Centre, was organised to mark the departure from the Community Foundation of Barbara and Mark I'Anson, who is stepping down as chairman. Both have served for nine years.

Co-founder Sir Paul Nicholson paid warm tributes to Barbara and Mark for their "huge contributions". Barbara was awarded the CBE in The Queen's Birthday Honours for her contribution to the voluntary sector.

James Fenwick has been confirmed as Mark's successor as chairman, while a new chief executive is expected to be announced in the next few weeks.

Easington Social Welfare Centre was chosen as the venue for the celebration event because it has been supported by the Community Foundation as a vital social hub for a number of years.

"Storytellers" from a range of organisations – Malcolm Fallow, of East Durham Trust; Alison Jermey, of CCLA; Martin Wilson, of Tin Arts; Public Health Director Miriam Davidson; and Darren Ditchburn, of Darlington Building Society - took to the stage to tell of their experiences of the Community Foundation and to highlight the impact it has made on local communities.

Performances were also given by a range of artistic groups supported by the Community Foundation, including Jack Drum Arts' Baque de Ogum Band; dancer Ryan George Smith; Durham Miners Association Brass Band; Deerness Gymnastics Academy; Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington Ukelele Band; and Enter CIC.

Mr Fenwick described The Next Chapter event as "the perfect way to showcase the huge impact the Community Foundation has on local communities in many different ways through their charitable funds set up by local people who want to give something back".