A NEWTON Aycliffe nursery has become the first in the county to be awarded a new quality mark.

The Quality Counts mark has been established by the National Day Nursery Association in conjunction with the Department for Education and Skills and early years partnerships.

The Playday Nursery, in Simpasture Gate, applied for the award with funding from the Durham Early Years Development and Child Care Partnership.

It has taken the nursery a year to achieve the accolade. After answering a stringent questionnaire, the nursery had a full inspection, which was moderated to ensure the facility was up to standard.

Nursery staff were delighted to hear this week that they had become the first in County Durham to gain the accreditation.

Co-owner Pat Cutmore said: "Obviously we are all chuffed to bits to be the first to get this award."

The nursery was established in 1995 by Mrs Cutmore, a health visitor, and retired dentist Cyril Stafford.

It has 44 children on its register, with ages ranging from babies to five-year-olds.

Mrs Cutmore has now stepped down as manager, and her role has been filled by Linda Watts, but she still plays an active part in the running of the nursery.

She said: "I've just celebrated my 70th birthday and to get this award is absolutely wonderful.

"I do feel it is public acknowledgment for the quality of service that my staff are giving.

"It is the staff that have worked so hard through the years by looking after the children, and a lot of parents look at them as an extended family."