PEOPLE living in a village near Darlington have stepped in to save their community centre from closure.

The future of the building in Middleton St George looked bleak after Darlington Borough Council withdrew its annual grant from rural halls last year.

Many villagers feared the former pumping station would be demolished and the land developed into flats, but on Monday evening about 30 residents met to discuss how it could be saved. The centre's management committee did not attend but its members are expected to tender their resignations this week.

An interim management committee was formed and a plan put in place to raise funds and increase the centre's membership.

Darlington Mayor Councillor Doris Jones said: "It would be devastating to see the community centre demolished and turned into a block of flats. We in the village are determined to save it and we turned up to the meeting with a rescue plan."

Although the centre has lost its £4,500-a-year council grant, the parish council has agreed to provide £3,000.

Villagers are now being urged to take out £3-a-year membership.

New chairman Martin Walker said: "People don't want to lose the community centre, nor do they want it replaced by flats.

"But to save it we need to raise its profile and people have got to use it and contribute with a couple of quid."

The committee hopes to raise the rest of its £7,000-a-year running costs by encouraging more events and activities in the hall.

"At the moment we are not certain of the current financial situation," said Mr Walker. "But what we don't want to do is lose the activities going on there at the moment. If the centre shuts, there may be no going back."

Middleton St George is not the only centre facing possible closure. Villagers in Sadberge are being asked to pay £2-a-year membership to save their village hall, which has lost its £1,900-a-year grant.

Sadberge Parish Council chairman Beatrice Cuthbertson said: "We really have a very, very nice village hall and it's an integral part of the community."

To become a member of Middleton St George community centre call Kimberley Oliver, on (01325) 333853.

To join Sadberge village hall call Mrs Cuthbertson on (01325) 332607 or visit the village post office.