A CENTRE set up to help a town recover from the loss of one of its major employers is under threat following an announcement that funding could be withdrawn.

Staff, volunteers and users of the Shildon Centre have been told that Durham County Council is looking at plans to withdraw funding from the facility from March 2007.

The centre was set up by the council in 1985, following the closure of Shildon's wagon works, to help those who were left without jobs with training and returning to work.

Over the past 20 years, it has developed and is now seen as the hub of the community offering support to numerous volunteer organisations.

It provides community transport through the Shildon Minibus Group and offers a meeting place for vulnerable members of the community, some of whose only social contact comes from dropping in for a quick chat.

Last night, local councillor Gareth Howe said the loss of the centre would be a great blow.

He said: "If this centre was to close, it would be a great loss to the town. A lot of agencies which depend on the centre would just fold.

"I think this is a wake-up call to the people of Shildon who need to stand up and fight to keep it open."

Shildon Town Council said it could not comment because it had yet to be formally informed of the county council's plans but it is believed that the centre will be discussed at its forthcoming meeting next Monday.

A spokesman for the county council said it had to make vital budget cuts and the withdrawal of funding from the centre was part of a package of recommendations to be discussed at cabinet level.

He said: "The centre was set up as an emergency response to the closure of the works 20 years ago and it has fulfilled that use successfully and developed a life of its own. Should it be agreed, we will not be looking at withdrawing funding immediately and intend to work closely with staff to find alternative funding and ways of maintaining the services it provides."