TIME is running out for a flagship play park that will close unless it can raise £16,000 by January.

The team of volunteers that runs the £145,000 play area at Delves Lane Village Hall, near Consett, needs the cash to pay for wardens and supervisors.

An insurance clause means that the play area must be monitored at all times. With the park open every day of the week, this sets the owners back £300 a week, or £16,000 a year.

The cash-strapped community association that runs the area has found it impossible to get grant aid to pay for staff.

The group launched a fundraising drive in August and has already collected £10,000. But members have exhausted all avenues, and fear the site will now close if a benefactor is not found.

Tony Westgarth, association chairman, said: "At the minute we are living day by day. We have applied to various funders and hope that one of them will come up trumps before January. Otherwise, the park will close."

The problem lies with the fact that the park is owned by a small community group, rather than the local authority. The only way insurance companies would offer public liability insurance for the area was if the association agreed to employ permanent wardens, or park supervisors.

While funding is readily available from grant-making bodies for capital projects such as maintenance work, there is no money in the pot for paying staff.

"We are in trouble until funding organisations take the blinkers off and see that community associations like ourselves need help," said Mr Westgarth.

The park and adjacent floodlit all-weather sports pitch were built after a successful bid to the National Lottery. It is considered one of the best facilities in County Durham and has been shortlisted this year for a coveted Green Flag award, presented to the top play areas in Britain.

The community association has more than 1,200 people on its books, from toddlers to football teams, each paying a small annual fee to use the area. Anyone wanting to make a donation should call (01207) 583174.