Funding Support in 2021



A future of a vital communications link operated by a Durham-based charity for the blind has been guaranteed, thanks to the generosity of the city’s freemen.

Blind Life in Durham, operating from Framwellgate Community Centre, provides a wide range of quality-of-life support to more than 70 members across the county.

A key tool used in the delivery of its wide-ranging service is a special printer used in the production of monthly CDs posted out to members.

Blind and wheelchair user Jim Welch, the organisation’s chairman and founder, explained: “The technology provided by our existing machine gave us the ability to print directly onto the face of a monthly CD we post out to members. These custom-made labels are important in helping each recipient understand what each CD offers and avoids confusion.

“But the machine was simply worn out and a costly replacement, along with the inks it needs, was not easy to find. Without it we would have been in a fix but the freemen’s generous £300 gift means we can now keep this important link going.”

Jim and his wife Margaret, group’s the treasurer, launched the service in 2004 with the twin aims of promoting the welfare, independence and quality of life of members while, at the same time, voicing awareness of problems facing the blind and partially sighted among service providers and other organisations.

Their work is supported by two part-time employees, backed by a further 15 volunteers. Jim is also a board member of Health Watch County Durham, and a volunteer for promoting blindness and disability awareness for Durham Constabulary and other organisations.

Social activities for members include ‘Skype’ chat groups, a book club and monthly meetings in the community centre. Activities also offer up to three events a week and they also embrace new age kurling, new age bowls and Boccia (another indoor ball game developed for players with disabilities). In spring and summertime regular days out and theatre trips are also organised.

Eric Bulmer, who chairs the freemen’s charitable trust, said: “It’s a privilege to support a locally based charity that helps its members become more independent whilst raising awareness to the wider community of the problems of being blind or partially sighted.”

More information about Blind Life in Durham can be found on or telephone 01388 763501


 Freemen  Bring A Breath Of Fresh Air To Mental Health Charitiy's Work

People seeking help and support from an independently-run mental health resource centre near the centre of Durham will now be able to enjoy a welcome breath of fresh air - thanks to a gift from the city’s freemen.

Every week the Waddington Street Centre, a respected charity celebrating its 40th anniversary this month (November), has provided a haven for up to 120 members struggling to cope with the crippling stress of modern living, more recently aggravated by the new tensions created by Covid restrictions.

Alan Ribchester Freemen Charitable Trust and Steve Wakefield Waddington Street Centre

However, the lockdown closures provided the opportunity to give the terraced property a major face-lift, the result of the generosity of city developers. But the latest £250 donation from the freemen’s charitable trust will help meet the £1,000 cost of a new and welcome addition to the facilities which re-opened in August.

Centre manager Ali Lee explained: “One of our main features is a long lounge extending into a café area which, in its turn, leads to a set of French doors. Beyond that is a pokey backyard - particularly gloomy when it’s wet.

“Adding a canopy roof over the yard and colourful wall murals will turn it into a brighter protected space where anxious members, who might feel closed in, can sit in comfort and take a breather.”

The centre’s team of 20 volunteers look to relieve the worries of home life, illness or community conflict through a wide range of informal educational activities. Help is tailored to address each individual’s needs, hopes and aspirations and embraces arts and crafts, writing and music workshops and exhibitions.

They also look to the extra value of theatre and cultural visits, as well as sporting activities. To that end they set a target of £40,000, to mark their 40thanniversary to cover costs of providing a new 14-seater mini bus to replace their ageing transport. To date they are less than 10 per cent of their target.

“As a charity we rely on all the help we can get and are indebted to the freemen for their support,” added Ali.

The chairman of the freemen’s charitable trust, Eric Bulmer said: “We are pleased to support a charity in the heart of the city devoted to providing a safe haven for individuals suffering a wide range of mental health issues.

“We applaud Ali and her team of volunteers for their dedication in providing a caring environment of support for members already struggling with the pressures life brings and now amplified by the Covid pandemic.”


Freemen Add Extra Punch To Durham's Young Boxers

Durham’s Freemen are proving an even bigger hit with young boxing enthusiasts – by repeating a donation first made a year ago to buy key pieces of training kit.

Last November a £300 gift from the freemen’s charitable trust helped Brandon Boxing Club cover costs of a new punch bag and gloves. This month the trustees decided to match their initial generosity, the same amount of money this time going towards coaching pads used to develop punching combinations.

The club has been operating for eight years from a purpose-built gym within the village cricket club’s multi-sports complex.

Boasting 150 members – a third of them female – it caters for a range of youngsters, some starting out as young as five. Two dozen of its leading exponents, most of them teenagers, take part in regular local, regional and national competitions. Among them are juniors Euan 'The Mighty 'Oakes(13) 'Amazing' Grace Kenny (12) 'Hurricane' Harvey Smith (13), and John 'TNT' Dixon (14) who are taking part in the Lord Lonsdale Box Cup, a national event in Penrith this weekend (Friday October 22nd).

“Finding funds to replace worn-out kit is a never ending challenge for any volunteer-led organisation like ours. The generosity of both individual donors and organisations like the freemen are vital to allow us to survive and thrive,” said the club’s competition secretary Alex Oliver, a civil servant awarded a British Empire Medal in 2017 for his services to the sport.

The chairman of the charitable trust, Eric Bulmer, said: “The Freemen are pleased to support a great community project which embraces all age groups and is enthusiastically organised and managed by a dedicated group of volunteers.”


Summer Picnics To Reunite Special Needs Children And Their Families

Hundreds of children with special needs are to be re-united at four huge fun-filled picnics organised by a leading County Durham charity to mark the end of their Covid isolation.

Until the virus struck, the Durham Area Disability Leisure Group (DADLG), a registered charity based in Gilesgate, Durham, worked for over 30 years to meet the “dreams and wishes” of youngsters.

But their county-wide programmes of sport, leisure and social activities, staged during evenings, weekends and school holidays, providing the key face-to-face contact they and their families craved, was lost during the lockdowns.

Now the four picnics, funded by the county council, with additional support from Durham City Freemen, promise an extravaganza of “fun and food,” the first vital step in the transition back to a “new normality” for DADLG’s growing number of families.

A total of 200 children, some as young as two, will be eligible to attend the picnics - along with parents, carers and siblings - set to be staged in Horden Welfare Park, Chester-le-Street Park, Wolsingham Recreation Ground and Sedgefield’s Hardwick Park towards the end of this month and into mid-August.

Project manager Lesley Clelland explained: “In March of last year we had to take the very sad decision to halt all our usual activities - and then immediately thought hard about ways to provide some sort of interim service.”

They first launched a regular newsletter and followed that with two-way “conversations” via photographs and feedback on social media and e-mail. Next came themed activity bags delivered to every family, then a “design-a- Christmas-card” competition resulting in the production of professionally printed greetings cards for every household.

From there Velcro bats, balls and skipping ropes, along with four short videos demonstrating skipping techniques, were distributed by volunteers – providing the only friendly face some shielding families got to see. More recently “Zoom” was central to youth and reading clubs, providing families the chance to communicate through virtual youth and reading clubs. For those without the technology Kindles were provided.

At the end of June the group learned their bid to organise the picnics had secured a county council contract worth a total of just over £5,000 – enough to cover delivery of the “food and fun” project at the four venues. A gift of £250 from Durham’s Freemen – which follows a £2,000 donation two years ago - will on this occasion be used to buy circus skills toys, which include juggling balls, spinning plates and diablo equipment.

“The number of families seeking our help has continued to grow throughout the pandemic and we will be catering for those who have been the hardest hit during the last seventeen months. We are particularly grateful to the council for the confidence they have shown us and to the freemen for their repeated generosity to our organisation. We aim to put smiles back on faces of children and adults who have missed all the close contact opportunities with each other that are so highly valued,” said Lesley.

“I do not see the day when we will stop our new activities and return to the old in this changing virus landscape. Rather it will be a transition between the old and the new, based on a careful risk assessment of each type of activity and venue. We will meet the challenge, even a one as big as this,” added Lesley.

John Booth, chairman of the wardens of the freemen and a member of their charitable trust said: “We are delighted and privileged to support DADLG whose work, in providing leisure activities for children, young people, their parents, families and carers, is outstanding.”

Eric Bulmer, chairman of the freemen’s charitable trust said: “We are delighted to continue backing Lesley and her team in supporting vulnerable youngsters in our communities. They deserve great credit for maintaining contact with members throughout the Covid pandemic with their innovative ideas and activities. I hope their fun-filled picnics are a great success.”



A timely gift of £500 from Durham’s Freemen’s has been instrumental in helping the scouting movement hit a target set to meet the costs of major improvement work at a large outdoor adventure and training centre on the eastern outskirts of the city.

Adaptations, costing £32,000, are key to making a large two-storey building, known as Moor House, more accessible to teenagers and young people with mobility and special educational needs.

The property, set in 18 acres of woods and farm land at Rainton Gate, plays host to some 10,000 visitors a year, among them similarly organised groups within the community.

But the entrance and residential accommodation on the ground floor of the building needs vital changes to give greater freedom and independence to youngsters with physical and learning disabilities.

The bill for the work was set at just under £32,000 and the bulk of money came from grants and pledges from charitable trusts, along with a contribution of £4,000 from Durham Scouts themselves.

A ground floor ramp, automated doors, the widening of some doorways and installation of emergency pull cords will give youngsters, who have been unable to fully enjoy their stay, greater “freedom, dignity and respect.” The measures extend throughout the ground-floor dormitory and also include a bedroom adapted for four people with mobility issues. The freemen’s gift will specifically cover costs for the automated doors for that room, which also includes an en-suite facility.

“As well as the house we have a permanent tented village within the grounds and can, on occasion, cater for jamborees for up to 3,000. The dorm provides residential opportunities for 40 young people and allows them the chance to tackle a variety of outdoor skills and qualify for badges during their stay.

“The accommodation will offer everything from overnight to week-long stays and adaptations allow those with mobility and learning needs the opportunity to thrive in scouting.

“Over the past four years we have cultivated new links with schools whose pupils have physical or special educational needs. Until now they have not been able to fully enjoy their stay but that can now change. The freemen’s £500 donation completed our appeal for support,” said Louise Barbe, a county fundraiser for Durham Scouts.

Kathleen Vasey Warden of the Drapers Company Durham City Freemen, Mark Ireland Moor House Trustee,
Pip Cottam Centre Manager
Alan Ribchester Durham City Freemen Charitable Trust Trustee.

Alan Ribchester, a freeman and a member of their charitable trust, said: “Prior to lockdown scouting continued to thrive and the facilities at Moor House have helped further the traditional ideals of scouting, as well as being great fun to use. The donation will help enormously broaden that appeal and the freemen are delighted their donation will help continue that development.”


Teenager Cops Freemen Apprenticeship Backing

Volunteer police cadet Charland Brain was awarded “top marks” for helping a crime fighting charity’s mission to build safer communities.

And her work has now earned a special vote of confidence from Durham City’s Freemen as she embarks on a career as an apprentice youth worker in the employ of the police.

Sixteen-year-old Charland, who lives in Chester-le-Street, devoted two years of her spare time to supporting the work of the Durham Agency Against Crime (DAAC) and logged a one-hundred per cent attendance record along the way.

Her commitment and determination to succeed so impressed the freemen’s charitable trust they offered her a £300 bursary to buy laptop software and other equipment needed in the first year of the two-year apprenticeship based at Derwentside College.

Durham Constabulary’s apprenticeship scheme has been running for five years and the 20 cadets who have successfully completed the course have found employment. Among them are two who became full-time police officers, two are special constables, six are Police Community Support Officers and two went on to become teachers.

Charland Brain with Chief Constable Jo Farrell - Image courtesy Geoff Kitson

DAAC – a partnership launched over 30 years ago by involving the public, private and voluntary sectors - currently has 75 cadets, aged from 11 to 18, on the books and are looking for more to help deliver crime prevention initiatives, assist with public safety events and get involved in community projects.Six cadets applied for apprenticeships this year – with Charland scoring the highest marks.

In addition to their college studies all apprentices work directly with primary schools, delivering instruction to “mini police officers” on internet safety and involvement in projects helping steer youngsters away from risks of being caught up in crime or anti-social behaviour.

DAAC’s executive manager, Bryan Russell, said: “Charland’s route to securing the apprenticeship has not been as easy one but her determination to succeed has been there for all to see. Covid too has played its part – the start of her course delayed until the end of the month (March).”

Eric Bulmer, chairman of the Freemen’s charitable trust said: “Supporting apprentices during training has been a cornerstone of the trade guilds of the city for hundreds of years. We are delighted to maintain this element of our heritage by supporting Charland as she embarks on her training. We will follow her progress with interest and wish her every success.”