ONE of Prince Charles’ charities is in line to help the next stage of the development of the Zurbarans project.

The Prince’s Trust is discussing how it can provide training opportunities for young people with the team planning to turn Auckland Castle into a major Christian heritage attraction.

Yesterday, philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer, who is buying the castle and its 17th Century paintings by Francisco de Zurbaran for £15m, was in Bishop Auckland with the recently-knighted Oxford University Professor Sir Diarmid McCulloch, who is designing the heritage exhibition.

Also present was architect Malcolm Reading as they discussed how visitors to the castle could have maximum economic impact on the neighbouring Bishop Auckland town centre.

Mr Ruffer’s charitable trust hopes to complete the purchase of the paintings and the castle from the Church Commissioners in time for the Auckland Food Festival on April 21.

That will enable grant applications to be made in the autumn so the castle, which will still contain the Bishop of Durham’s office, can reopen as a tourist attraction in 2014.

This week, Mr Ruffer’s chief executive, Rowena Hackwood, visited Clarence House to discuss how the Prince’s Trust could become involved.

Mrs Hackwood, who sees the castle offering training in grounds maintenance, conservation, tourism and event management, said: “Auckland Castle has great potential to offer young people training, learning opportunities and even apprenticeships, and we feel we can make a difference in the town.

“We are building this into our business plan from the start. The Prince’s Trust has a programme called ‘Get Into…’ and they are talking to us about running some of their courses here.”

Prince Charles is supportive of the Auckland project, and last year presented Mr Ruffer with one of five 2011 Medals for Arts Philanthropy for buying the Zurbaran paintings, which have hung in the castle since 1756.

For updates about the castle and paintings, go to @aucklandcastle on