THE debate over the future of our town centres has reached a critical point, with House of Fraser going into administration last week, and other High Street retailers deciding enough’s enough.

Darlington is a case in point. It’s about to lose its Binns and Marks and Spencers stores, and there are no easy answers, but Peter Bulmer is at least trying to do his bit.

As a mechanical engineer by trade, Peter knows a thing or two about making things work. Born in Aycliffe, and raised in Chilton, he served his time at Black and Decker and went on to become technical manager at the Fisher Price toy factory in Peterlee. Anyone who’s CV includes project managing the introduction of Snoopy Dog into the UK market warrants respect.

Toys were replaced by cars when he became project manager for Magna Kansei, a supplier for the automotive industry, based in Sunderland. Then, 12 years ago, he and his new wife Suzanne, who was in human resources with regional development agency One North East, decided it was time they worked for themselves.

Peter had a love of catering so the couple bought Coopers tea-room and coffee shop in Post House Wynd, Darlington. Their appetite whetted, they reopened the cafes in South Park and Head of Steam museum and, six years ago, they invested in the Victorian covered market by turning Card Shark into the Waterhouse Kitchen restaurant.

Times may be tough for town centres but Peter takes the view that everyone has to play their part in supporting them, which is why he’s single-handedly organising the Darlington Vintage Vehicle Rally on Saturday, August 25.

As chairman of the  now defunct Darlington BID, he organised the Darlington Classic Car Show in 2016 but this follow-up event promises to be bigger. In all, something like 120 vintage vehicles will be assembled on the Market Square, East Row, West Row, Horsemarket, and High Row. Vintage fire engines, ambulances, military vehicles, buses, cars, 50 motorbikes, and even a couple of fairground organs will be stars of the show.

“I don’t think it’s just down to the council to bring people into the town centre,” says Peter. “They have their part to play, of course, but it’s no good whingeing – we can all do our bit.”

He acknowledges the “full support” of the council in helping with road closures, other businesses are getting involved by selling refreshments, and the operators of the market, Market Asset Management, have produced posters.

There’ll be an outdoor market in Blackwellgate, all exhibitors will get goody bags supported by local retailers, and Town Crier Peter Stemmer will announce the winners of various vintage vehicle classes.

“All you can do is try and, if we can each do something to bring people into the town centre, the hope is that they’ll like what they see and come back,” says Peter Bulmer, who has already booked August 24 for next year’s vintage vehicle rally in Darlington.

So Peter’s certainly doing his bit. The least the rest of us can do is pop down to the town centre on August 25, enjoy the free attractions, and spend a bit of money.

MY recent column about Paddington Bear’s illustrious North-East animator, Sheila Graber, brought back memories for Tom Sellars, of Guisborough.

Tom recalled the time he was a lab technician at Polam Hall School, in Darlington, and ran an animation workshop for boarders. It was arranged for Sheila to come from her home in South Shields as speaker but Polam’s matron insisted the girls had to be in bed by 9.15pm.

Tom enclosed the picture below from February 1988 in the hope it inspires more animated responses.

MY star of the week was eight-year Tom Hartshorne, who beat 111 adults to win a golf tournament at Rockliffe Hall, near Darlington.

“Did you expect to win?” I asked Tom.

“Yes, I really thought I would,” he replied without any hesitation.

I suspect we may be hearing a lot more of young Tom.

PILLOCK of the week was a 58-year-old father-of-two in China who tried to steal five live crabs from a seafood restaurant by shoving them down his trousers and making a run for it.

He was quickly apprehended and I really hope the copper said: “You’re nipped.”

SORRY, correction, there’s a bigger pillock of the week than someone shoving live crabs down his trousers.

Now that we’re running a business, my wife and I were up to our necks checking the accounts the other day, making sure the taxman had every penny he was due.

In the middle of it, TV breakfast news was reporting on the latest fall-out over Ian Paisley MP who failed to declare two family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan Government.

Unbelievable, isn’t it?

FINALLY, I can’t let the week pass without saying a fond farewell to “Mum At Large” columnist Ruth Campbell, who signed off last Thursday.

Many readers assumed that Ruth was married to “Dad At Large” – that’s me. Indeed, I remember once being asked about Ruth by a little old lady at one of my talks.

“How long have you and Mum At Large been married?” she asked.

“Oh, we’re not married,” I explained.

“No, no, I’m sure you are,” she insisted and simply walked away.

The worry now is that people will think we are getting divorced. The truth is that, while we have nine children between us, we’ve always just been good friends.

Thanks for the memories, Ruth.