DARLINGTON FC are coming home after agreeing a groundsharing deal with Darlington RFC "that secures the future of both clubs".

Preparatory work for the redevelopment of the rugby club's Blackwell Meadows is due to start next month - with a fundraising campaign to raise £75,000 to pay for the improvements to be launched next week.

It is hoped the work will be completed - and the ground approved by the FA - ready for the football club to move in by the start of next season.

The agreement comes after years of behind-the-scenes discussions and negotiations between the clubs and Darlington Borough Council officials.

With Darlington FC pushing for promotion from the Evo-Stik League Premier Division, director John Tempest said it was an exciting time for the club.

"This agreement between our two clubs represents the achievement of a key milestone in the further development of Darlington FC since 2012.

"We have been encouraged by supporters, business and community partners in our ultimate aim of returning to play our games in our home town of Darlington."

Mr Tempest said the club's return to Darlington would hopefully mean larger attendances, bigger incomes from sponsors and more opportunities for corporate packages. 

Michael Wilkinson, chairman of Darlington RFC said: "The agreement we have entered into secures and benefits both clubs and creates a stable future for sport within Darlington and the surrounding areas.

"This is the first major step towards the realisation of our ambition to create a premier multi-sports facility for the community of Darlington."

Malcolm Cundick, architect and Darlington fan for 30 years who has drawn up the designs for the redevelopment, said the first task would be to install a 1.8 metre fence around the pitch.

Six turnstiles will be built beside the existing clubhouse, which will get a new entrance.

A new Tin Shed stand will be built using portal frames from the Tin Shed which once stood at Darlington's former Feethams ground. 

The stand was due to be built on the west side of the pitch but has been moved to the east side after Northumbrian Water raised concerns about plans to build over a large mains water pipe which runs under the ground.

The clubs will also look to build a 250-space car park in fields beside the ground.

The aim is to achieve FA Category B status for the ground which would have a capacity of 3,000.

This would allow the club to enter National League North should they get promoted.

The Northern Echo:
An artist's impression of how the ground will look after the improvements have been made.

The club is looking to raise £75,000 towards redevelopment costs. Details of the fundraising initiative will be announced at a fans' forum at Blackwell Meadows on Thursday, March 24 from 7pm.

A further fundraising initiative will be launched by Darlington FC Supporters Group who have been working with Supporters Direct on their own scheme.

Speakers at the event will include Darlington RFC chairman Michael Wilkinson, DFC directors John Tempest, Richard Cook and team manager Martin Gray.