MORE than £200,000 has been awarded towards the restoration of the Grade II* listed gardens of Auckland Castle – to protect the historic grounds and help make it a major attraction and a place of sanctuary for visitors.

The Historic England grant of £212,000 will fund essential repairs to parts of the publicly accessible gardens, improving the setting of the 900-year-old castle for residents and visitors.

Dating back to the 12th century, Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland was home to the Prince Bishops of Durham who held ecclesiastical and secular power across the North East.

The castle and grounds were bought in 2012 by The Auckland Project, a charity founded by philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer.

Following extensive restoration, the castle opened as a visitor attraction a year ago, in November 2019 though it is currently closed due to Covid.

The Historic England grant will focus on the parts of the garden around the episcopal palace at the castle, which are free to visit and where urgent work is needed to fix historic walls, railings and steps.

The repair project will aid the coronavirus recovery in the heritage sector, as the work will be done by specialist contractors and craftspeople.

The repairs within Auckland Castle gardens are a priority for the Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone, a partnership scheme between Historic England and Durham County Council.

They will help to deliver the programme’s main aim, which is to regenerate the town’s historic centre and make it a vibrant place to live and visit.

Charles Smith, deputy regional director for Historic England in the North East and Yorkshire, said: “Over the past nine months, many of us have found solace in visiting our historic parks and gardens as they can have a significant impact on our wellbeing.

"We believe this funding will do much improve the castle’s gardens as an attraction, providing clear mental and physical health benefits to its visitors.

“The Auckland Project is playing a valuable role in supporting the work of the Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone.

"Its restoration of the castle and grounds, together with its numerous town centre projects, will help transform Bishop Auckland into a heritage tourism destination.”

David Maddan, CEO of The Auckland Project, said: “We’re incredibly grateful to Historic England for their support.

"This year has been extremely challenging for everyone, but projects like this will not only make our outdoor spaces safer and more enjoyable to be in, but also play a vital role in protecting and safeguarding our heritage.”