Intrepid father-of-four Craig Huddart has embarked on an extraordinary year-long mission to raise money for two charities that have been a lifeline to his family during the pandemic. PETER BARRON reports

AS an archaeologist, Craig Huddart is used to having to dig deep – but 2022 is going to require more staying power than any other.

By the time the year is done, Craig, 38, aims to run himself into the ground to raise thousands of pounds for two charities close to his heart.

The devoted dad has been an archaeologist for 20 years, becoming Principal Archaeologist for Orion Heritage, and working all over the UK.

Home is Middleton-in-Teesdale but, wherever his work takes him, he’s committed to running 10k every day, plus a half-marathon on Sundays.

Teesdale provides the perfect running landscape, and his daily outings, which began on New Year’s Day, take him over the top of Holwick Fell and its neighbouring hills.

His schedule adds up to more than 2,600 miles, the distance from County Durham to Turkey, and it’s all in aid of the North East Autism Society (NEAS) and The Alan Shearer Centre – organisations that have made a huge difference to his family.

Craig and his partner, Hannah, have four children, including three autistic boys: Alfred, 11, Finn, 10, and Teddy, four.

“The boys are intelligent, articulate, loving and creative, but because they’re autistic, they find life a bit of a struggle at times,” explains Craig.

Life is especially challenging for Finn, who also has a condition called DiGeorge Syndrome. He has multiple holes in his heart and its left side doesn’t function. He had open heart surgery at 18 months and is on the list for more, but it’s been delayed by the pandemic.

“It’s an extension of life rather than a cure but he just cracks on with living every day to the full,” says Craig.

However, Finn has to avoid infections, so there’s been additional pressure on the family to isolate.

Thankfully, NEAS has been an invaluable source of support, with a range of educational online resources for children and adults. Hannah was also recently diagnosed as autistic and, as well as working as a personal trainer, she’s in the final year of a PHD in Sports Studies, so the NEAS resources helped her too. Her ambition is to specialise in disability and autism in sport.

The couple have been so impressed with NEAS that they are now investigating the possibility of Finn and Teddy going to one of the charity's specialist schools.

“The mere existence of NEAS has given us hope as a family,” says Craig.

The family also has reason to be grateful to The Alan Shearer Centre, which is in Newcastle, and provides recreational, sensory and social activities for disabled people.

“The boys love football, and Finn, in particular, is obsessed with scores, league tables and calculating goal difference,” says Craig. “Whenever we’ve been to The Alan Shearer Centre, we've have had an amazing time.”

In return for the support the family has had, Craig’s target is to raise £2,500 for both charities and he's making good progress.

“I’ve run before but never to this extent. The injuries are creeping in, but I’m doing this for the kids, so I’ll keep going,” he says.

“I’m not just doing this to raise money, but to raise awareness of autism and break down barriers.

“My children are amazing. One day, they’ll be amazing adults and I’d love it if, by then, things are that little bit easier for them.”

JAMES Charlton was a special young man, and the hundreds of tributes that have flowed since his unexpected death at 26 is testament to how popular and respected he was.

Nine years ago, I hosted The Best of Darlington Awards when James was named Young Citizen of the Year, in deserved recognition of his tireless efforts to help his beloved Darlington Football Club through its financial turmoil.

The Northern Echo:

He organised bucket collections, sold memorabilia on a market stall, swept litter from the terraces, cleaned the dressing rooms after matches…you name it, James would do anything for The Quakers.

From the age of 15, he also qualified as a referee and carried on officiating at youth games after moving to London to study biomedical science.

It went deeper than his love of the game. He recognised the social value of helping to keep diverse young people off the streets.

And there was more, so much more, to James than football. He learned sign language, volunteered at St Teresa’s Hospice in his home town, trained to become a St John Ambulance volunteer, and travelled to Calais to help a charity working with refugees.

Knowing how much he’d already crammed into his young life, it was such a pleasure to announce his name as Darlington’s Young Citizen of the Year back in 2013.

In the interview that followed, he spoke with maturity beyond his years, and displayed the empathy for others that defined his life.

When I jokingly flashed a red card to “send him off” the stage, he broke into one of his cheery smiles that so many in Darlington and London have remembered amid the heartbreak of the past few days.

I’ve known James’ parents, Steve and Carol, for a long time. They too have made invaluable contributions to their local community – Steve as one of Darlington's longest-serving GPs, and Carol as chair of St Teresa’s Hospice.

I hope they find comfort in the huge outpouring of kind comments their wonderful son inspired through his kindness and positive energy.

Just 26 years old – but, oh, what an impact he made.

Rest in peace, James. You played a blinder.