Auckland Castle reopened at the start of November after a painstaking restoration, supported by private gifts, grants and National Lottery Heritage fundraising. It’s wonderful to see it reawakened and to see the raft of positive media coverage, with reviewers praising the trust’s vision for regeneration through heritage. Amongst so many are great pieces in the FT, and the Guardian, and the Castle and Bishop Auckland (and an eloquent local farmer!) had a starring role in the BBC’s pre election coverage.

We have worked with the Auckland Project (formerly Auckland Castle Trust) on and off for several years, as they navigated the path from formation as a charity to reopening as a multi-faceted heritage attraction. Early on the challenge was the match fundraising to support the National Lottery Heritage support which partially supported the restoration. This was achivieved through a focussed fundraising appeal resulting in a series of £1m+ grants from Sainsbury charities and others.

These were extraordinary pledges for a new heritage project in the North East, and were testament to the passion and vision of Jonathan and Jane Ruffer, and what was then a tiny team. It’s too often noted how £multi-million gifts land so often in the city and seldom in the regions, so this series of £1m+ gifts and grants was a welcome counter-balance – and hopefully the start of more ‘hometown philanthropy’.

Since the castle was acquired by the trust, this heritage regeneration project has grown exponentially: a Miners’ Art Gallery is open, close to the Castle, and Kynren, a live-action volunteer-led outdoor heritage spectacular, enthralls visitors weekly in the summer. In the coming years a Spanish Art Hallery will open, displaying art of the Golden Age, and the restored and ‘reimagined’ kitchen gardens will once more offer food and flowers, and will be home to extraordinary glass bubble rooms.

‘Behind the scenes’ the project continues to offer opportunties to apprentices, and support a community which has faced significant difficulties over the years. The heritage fundraising that has powered the castle’s restoration had spawned a new era of optimism, too: around the castle there are new cafes and shops, prepared to benefit from the new wave of visitors to the town.

More recently we have worked to support the Auckland Project team as they work on fundraising for these heritage projects and developments, and put in place a sustainable fundraising strategy for the future. It has been a pleasure to play a small role in this one-of-a-kind project, and to see town and community begin to thrive.