TODAY, The Northern Echo is giving its backing to a campaign to save the world’s oldest railway institute – and is calling on readers to help 'Save Our Stute'.

Shildon Railway Institute, in County Durham, has been at the heart of the town since it was founded by Timothy Hackworth for the town’s railway workers and their families in 1833.

Its current home since 1911, the building on Redworth Road is a place where generations have come together over the decades.

When the railway works closed in 1984, the beautiful Grade II listed building was gifted by owners North Eastern Railway to its members.

However, the beloved institute has struggled during the coronavirus pandemic and is now facing closure unless it can raise vital funds.

Volunteers have now launched a desperate crowdfunding appeal to safeguard its future.

In 2019, a public meeting to discuss its future prompted volunteers to assemble and create the ‘Save Our Stute’ (SOS) campaign.

By then, it had only one out of three floors in use as a social club with a dwindling attendance.

They started work straight away to stabilise the business, raise awareness of their campaign and reinstate the venue as a thriving social hub.

Any progress made since that pivotal public meeting in 2019 has been wiped out by lockdown and reduced attendance.

The two periods of enforced closure meant writing off the bar’s stock and then re-buying it, furloughing staff and cancelling several events.

Volunteers said the situation has only been aggravated by the strict social distancing laws and 10pm curfew, resulting in reduced attendance during opening hours.

Outgoings have quickly overtaken income and the venue’s finances are in a perilous state.

Campaign member Anthony Knight is calling for donations and said the group has been overwhelmed by the amount of public support since the fundraiser launched.

He said: “We are at a point where we don’t know if the doors can open again. After a year-and-a-half of everybody working together to get the place back on its feet it's a real blow to be in this situation.

“Fortunately, we mobilised quickly to set up the crowfunder because we know once things get back to normal we can make it work – it’s just getting to that point.

“Shildon and the railways are intrinsically linked and the institute is such an historic icon.

"It would be such a shame for the building to close and fall into ruin. If we can keep things going and raise the funds we need we want to restore the building to its former glory. There is so much going on here and people don’t realise it’s a hidden gem. If we do raise the funds we want to grow on that and create even more of a community hub.

“The response to the fundraiser so far has been fantastic. It’s unbelievable how much has been raised in such a short amount of time. We are over the moon and just hope it continues.”

Since the fundraiser went live on Sunday night, the team has raised £1,154 of their £20,000 target. To donate, to the appeal visit online.