THE transformation of a double decker bus into a children’s play centre is the first project to come to fruition as part of a £1m regeneration scheme.

A 30-year-old bus has been given a new lease of life with a play area upstairs and down thanks to a team in charge of handing out the six-figure sum aimed at improving communities in the Bishop Auckland area.

The Big Purple Play Bus, which has cost £30,000 to purchase and overhaul, will not only offer children the chance to have fun but will create a unique business opportunity.

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After being used by the Gaunless Gateway group over Christmas and into the New Year, it will be gifted to a charity or organisation which promises to continue the venture at home for free six to a dozen times a year.

West Auckland Parish Cllr Lynn Reilly, who has led the project and picked up the keys for the bus yesterday, said: “It’s a way of bringing an indoor play area to all the children in the area. Not all children can afford to go to play areas and it gives them so much pleasure. When you the bus you can’t believe the difference the company (Gardiners, in Spennymoor) has made to it.”

The steering group in charge of the Big Local fund, to cover six areas in and around Bishop Auckland, has launched the bus in the hope that it can offer activities for children aged under 11 and educational, health or wellbeing sessions with parents simultaneously.

It is now calling for charitable groups, organisations or anyone wanting to start a business to come forward with a sustainable business plan which will see the chosen group taking over the running of the bus, securing its future.

Durham County Cllr Rob Yorke said: “The group will evaluate the plans and if we think you will be dedicated and will run it in a good fashion, we’ll choose you.”

Anyone who would like to submit a business plan will be given free help and advice to develop the plan with South Durham Enterprise Agency (SDEA), the local trusted organisation overseeing the funds.

In the meantime the Gaunless Gateway group has arranged a Santa Run to show off the bus and hopes to organise a stop off at all schools in its six areas.

On December 17 the bus will be on show, but not available to play in, with Santa in tow, to residents at half hour intervals from 10am.

It will start on the green outside West Auckland Memorial Hall, then will stop at St Helen Auckland skatepark, and in Bishop Auckland at Weardale Drive, Auckland Youth and Community Centre, on Walker Drive, The Manor, in Henknowle, and Helena Terrace.

To put forward a business plan call Steve Robson at SDEA on 01388-776688.