THE trustees who will look after the Zurbaran paintings of Auckland Castle on behalf of the people of the North- East are named today.

In his first major interview since buying the paintings for £15m, City financier Jonathan Ruffer outlines his vision for how the Zurbaran Trust can help alleviate poverty.

“It has the potential to be a very powerful force for making good things happen in the North-East,” said Mr Ruffer, 59, who was brought up in Stokesley and who will, from next year, work a couple of days a week from Auckland Castle.

“I am absolutely thrilled by the list of trustees. They are not the great and the good.

They are people who have spent a large part of their lives working out how to help the dispossessed.”

Mr Ruffer has bought the set of 17th Century Spanish paintings, which have hung in Auckland Castle since 1756.

They will remain in the castle, which it is hoped will become a tourist attraction run by the National Trust in conjunction with Durham County Council. It may stage exhibitions with loans from the National Gallery, in London.

The castle will also be the base for Mr Ruffer’s charitable work in Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire.

Mr Ruffer said: “Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman said to me ‘I hope the trust will not just be tea towels and jam’, and she’s right. It has got to be more than that.

“I will be working through the people in this area. I bet there are 15 people in, say, Middlesbrough who, one way or another, hold entire communities together. They will be absolutely up against it. I want to get to know them. I want to help them.

“I hope Auckland Castle will be a tourist attraction and a great place for employment, but I also want it to be a place of refuge, where those who can give are drawn in.”

The trustees overseeing the work have an evangelical Christian feel to them, but all stress there is a need to work across religions and faiths.

Mr Ruffer, who now lives in Essex, and his wife, Dr Jane Sequeira, a palliative care specialist, will both be trustees, as will Sir Peter Vardy, the North-East motor dealer and philanthropist. Sir Peter is heavily involved in the Emmanuel Schools Foundation, which sponsors four secondary schools in the north, including one in Middlesbrough.

The other trustees are the Reverend Peter Watherston, the Venerable Paul Hackwood and Christopher Erskine.

Mr Ruffer describes Mr Watherston as “my mentor”.

Thirty years ago, he was the youngest director of Warburg’s bank and stood as a prospective Conservative MP.

He gave it up to work as a clergyman in the East End of London, where he now runs Transform Newham, an organisation of 100 churches and social enterprises.

Mr Hackwood is a residentiary canon at Leicester Cathedral. He chairs the Church Urban Fund, which Mr Ruffer has supported in its work tackling poverty.

Mr Erskine is a director of the Seedbed Christian Community Trust, based in Surrey, but which does community work on Teesside.