VOLUNTEERISM was the key theme of a service of thanksgiving for the 175th anniversary of Darlington's oldest charity.

Hundreds of people attended the service to mark the milestone reached by Darlington Town Mission, at St Cuthbert's Church, on Tuesday (April 30) evening.

Among the dignitaries at the service was the Bishop of Jarrow, the Right Reverend Mark Bryant, who gave a sermon describing the Mission as a "remarkable" organisation.

Formed in 1838 by three Darlington businessmen, it aims to relieve poverty, sickness, hardship and distress among vulnerable people in the borough.

Quakers John Pease and John Backhouse founded the society, which was originally called Darlington Christian Visiting Society, along with Anglican vicar John Hopkins.

Funded entirely through donations, the Mission carries out hundreds of home visits and outings each year, with volunteers spending time with lonely and isolated people.

Sue Case is the charity's full-time missioner, who works with volunteers to visit people, in their homes and in hospital, offering practical and material assistance, information and support.

Bishop Mark told the congregation: "The best sort of volunteering is the sort that listens to other people and as we listen, we begin to put ourselves in their shoes and hopefully that means we become more compassionate.

"One of the most wonderful things about the Town Mission is that it enables people to open their hearts to compassion.

"Society can always use an injection of compassion and that, it seems to me, is precisely what the Town Mission is doing."

The hour-long service included hymns, prayers and a musical contribution from Darlington Choral Society.

Also in the congregation was Sue Snowdon, the Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, and Darlington mayor Paul Baldwin and mayoress Kim Baldwin.

The Mission's beliefs include that everybody is entitled to a good quality of life and that communities should work to combat social isolation.

For more information about the charity, visit darlingtontownmission.org.uk, email dtmission@btconnect.com or call 01325-734995.