WORK is starting to transform one of County Durham’s oldest buildings into a new, learning space.

The West Mural Tower, in the grounds of Auckland Castle, in Bishop Auckland, dates back to at least the 15th century and was built as a defensive gatehouse guarding the original, main entrance to the castle when it was home to the Prince Bishops of Durham.

Now, the grade I-listed building is being rescued from decades of deterioration and decay as part of The Auckland Project visitor destination, with support from Historic England’s local Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) scheme.

David Ronn, project manager at The Auckland Project, said: “The West Mural Tower has been through many incarnations in its 500 year history, including as a gatehouse for access to Auckland Castle and a cottage for those taking care of the Deer Park.

“It has fallen into disrepair over the last century but we’ve been working hard with Historic England and Durham County Council in the past year to make the building safe.

“We are now looking forward to giving it a totally new lease of life and making it functional for people to use and enjoy.”

It is expected to take around six months to complete, with the room in use from spring/summer 2019.

The new space will be used by The Auckland Project’s Engagement Team to provide a variety of learning opportunities for small groups and families.

The transformation of West Mural Tower is being funded primarily by The Auckland Project, with a £50,000 grant from Historic England as part of the Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone scheme and £5,000 from the Architectural Heritage Fund.

Catherine Dewar, of Historic England, said: “This is a really special, and somewhat hidden, building in the town and so we’re delighted to see that progress is being made to repair it as it has been on our Heritage at Risk Register for some time.”

Bishop Auckland is one of 18 locations across the UK to have been granted Heritage Action Zone status and will benefit from a five-year programme designed to reinvigorate its historic Market Place, high streets and other parts of the conservation area.