A SUCCESSFUL support service touring two Durham dales in the aftermath of foot-and-mouth could be extended to other rural areas.

Since the beginning of this month, up to ten people a day have been visiting a mobile police caravan parked in Teesdale and Weardale villages.

Inside, farmers and other people affected by the epidemic have been offered advice and information to help them get back on their feet.

The two-month-long pilot project brings together agencies involved in business, training, benefits, education, marriage guidance, stress counselling and other spheres.

It was the idea of Teesdale farmer David Maughan, of Morton Tinmouth, who put it to a rural recovery seminar held at County Hall, in Durham, last November.

County Durham and Darlington Health Authority, one of the main funders along with One NorthEast, and Teesdale and Wear Valley District Councils now hopes to offer the service in the north of the county.

Ceri Mather, who represents the health authority on a steering group, said: "Just because foot-and-mouth outbreaks have stopped, it does not mean that people's problems have gone away and won't for some time.

"People need help to rebuild their futures and we don't want them to think they have been forgotten."

The service follows on from other support schemes such as a rural helpline set up for foot-and-mouth victims.

Not only farmers were coming forward, she said. "We are reaching people from a wide range of backgrounds and a lot are coming along.

"We will be doing our best to provide them with what they are asking for, rather than what we think they want.

"We are currently evaluating the service and we hope that we can demonstrate that it is a worthwhile project. If we can, it will be extended across Derwentside and other rural areas."

Tomorrow, the van visits Cotherstone, Romaldkirk and Mickleton. It is at Hamsterley, Witton-le-Wear and Toft Hill on Friday, Bowes on Monday and Gainford, Winston, Ovington and Whorlton on Wednesday, February 27.

Contact (01325) 742316, 07790 074315 or 07773 671583.