RESIDENTS have secured the future of their award-winning play area after raising enough cash in six months to run the site for a year.

Kind-hearted householders in Delves Lane, near Consett, in the top ten per cent of the most deprived communities in the UK, dug deep to save their play area from closure.

The volunteers who manage the site launched an appeal in September to raise the £16,000 they needed to keep it open. Since then, the appeal has raised more than £13,400.

Tony Westgarth, chairman of the community association which runs the play area and sports pitch, said the hard work and charity of residents had secured the site's long-term future.

He said: "The people here have been amazing.

"We are one of the most deprived communities in the country and they have still found the money.

A clause in the site's insurance means that a warden must be on hand during opening hours to supervise youngsters.

This costs the association £16,000 a year, and there are no Government grants available to help.

Donations towards the target came from the Willan Trust, Sir James Knott and the Children's Foundation.

Villagers did the rest themselves, organising fundraising events, including a six-mile sponsored walk, a tuck shop, and a broth and bingo night. Mr Westgarth also ran a weekly prize draw.

He said: "It gives us some breathing space. Hopefully, the money we make this year will give us a buffer to pay salaries next year. That way, we will finally be sustainable."

The £145,000 park and floodlit, all-weather sports pitch attached to Delves Lane Village Hall was built in 2000 after a successful bid to the National Lottery.

It is considered one of the best sites of its kind in County Durham and was the only play area in the region to win a Green Pennant last year. The national award is given for providing a safe and clean playing environment for children.

The community association has more than 1,200 people on its books, who each pay a small annual fee to use the area, from toddlers to football teams.