People are gearing up for an annual town celebration that was first held hundreds of years ago.

The Houghton Feast will take place in Houghton-le-Spring from Friday until Sunday, October 16, featuring events and activities including the traditional ox roast.

The opening ceremony will be a feast of light and music as hundreds of schoolchildren take part in a lantern procession on Friday evening after Bill Stephenson, Mayor of Sunderland, launches proceedings.

The event is thought to have started in the 1100s as festival of dedication for the Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels.

Houghton Rector Bernard Gilpin started the celebration of roasting an ox for the area's poor in the 16th Century.

The clergymen, also known as the Apostle of The North, fed the poor of the parish by giving them a bullock or hog roast at Michaelmas.

The opening ceremony takes place on Friday at 7pm at the church, in Broadway, when illuminations put up for the event will be switched on.

Lanterns for the parade are being made by youngsters working with Busy Ape Arts, of Stanley.

Councillor Mel Spedding, council cabinet member for culture, arts, sports and leisure, said getting people into the spirit of the feast was a key aim. He said: "Every year we encourage young people to be involved in feast activities.

"This year, we are delighted to be offering the creative workshops once again with Busy Ape Arts to enable youngsters not only to experience creative activities but also to have an involvement in the popular opening parade."

On Saturday, highlights include the carnival parade at 2.30pm. It starts at Houghton Sports centre and will feature decorated floats, vintage and classic cars, steam engines and marching bands.

On Sunday, at 7.30pm, Houghton Dance and Performing Arts Academy will stage a grand variety show in the Empire House Studio, Newbottle Street.

Next Monday, the traditional ox roast, overseen by Houghton Rotary Club, will take place on the Rectory Field at 4pm. It will be followed by a free fireworks spectacular sponsored by the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain on the Durham Road playing fields at 7.30pm on Wednesday, October 12.

Among the highlights will be the Houghton Feast Horticultural Show, in Houghton Sports Centre, on Saturday, October 15, at 10am and a battle of the bands competition at Houghton Kepier School at 7.30pm.

Call 0191-514 1235 or log on to houghtonfeast for details.