A YOUTH centre in Bishop Auckland has been gifted a double decker bus which will give youngsters the chance to play for free.

Auckland Youth and Community Centre (AYCC) has been handed the keys to the Big Purple Play Bus as part of a £1m regeneration scheme.

The 30-year-old bus was bought up and given a new lease of life as a children’s play centre by the Gaunless Gateway Partnership - a steering group in charge of the Big Local fund aimed at improving communities in the Bishop Auckland area.

Now the organisation has handed responsibility of the bus to AYCC following a successful bid which promised to adhere to stipulations that it is continued to be offered freely to local people six to a dozen times a year.

West Auckland Parish Cllr Lynn Reilly, who has led the project, said: “What we wanted was that the whole of this area would get use of this - and free use as well. AYCC is right in the middle of the Gaunless Gateway area, on Woodhouse Close estate.

“I think they will do very well and this will enhance what they are already doing.

“I know it gives kids lots of pleasure and that’s what we want.”

The Big Purple Play Bus, which cost almost £30,000 to purchase and overhaul, is fitted out with a play area upstairs and down.

It has created a new job opportunity, a new volunteering opportunity and a new social enterprise for AYCC.

David McCreedy, delivery manager at AYCC, said the centre plans to use the bus to work with parents, children, young people, families and schools - offering fun as well as health improvement advice.

He said: “We’re very grateful for the fantastic opportunity that will benefit us and the whole area. It will generate income for the organisation that we desperately need and will support the centre in carrying on the good work that it does. It’s a new adventure and an exciting time.”

For two-and-a-half years the bus has been stored free of charge at Alan Sewell, in Evenwood.

But now Bishop Auckland Fire Station has offered to house the bus.

Barbara Slasor, community engagement officer for the Gaunless Gateway partnership, based at the South Durham Enterprise Agency, which oversees handing out of the six-figure sum, said: “This is about true partnership working and support.”

She added: “It’s community owned and community led which is fantastic.”