Funding Support In 2020


Freemen's Covid 19 Cash Injection Reaches People of All Ages

Two “Masketeers,” among volunteers across the Durham area providing a range of vital community support to those among the hardest hit by the flu pandemic, are sharing a £1,100 shot-in-the-arm from the city’s freemen.

The cash is benefiting local food banks, children in refuge centres, the city’s homeless, as well as vulnerable families and the elderly – among them a woman who has celebrated her 100th birthday.

The “Masketeers” – Durham Elvet Rotary Club members Tom Sharples and Peter Atkinson – initially set up a mini production line in their homes to craft and supply colourful face masks to the Durham Community Foodbank and Waddington Street Centre. But their work was so well received they gifted them for the wider community, more recently adding the Dragonfly Cancer Trust to their supply line.

“The freemen’s £250 donation helped kick start our work and we were helped with cotton and fabric donations from Kite Packaging based in Washington. We have given out nearly 1,000 masks and plan to continue making them for as long as they are required,” said Tom.

The woman celebrating her 100thbirthday was among the beneficiaries of support from staff and youngsters at the Silver Tree Primary and Nursery School in Ushaw Moor.

The £300 they received from the freemen helped towards the cost of putting together food parcels distributed once a fortnight to 20 needy families, as well as isolated pensioners and the disabled, within their catchment area.

Mrs Monica Smith, was singled out for extra-special attention to mark her landmark birthday. In addition to her congratulations from the Queen she also received flowers, chocolates and a birthday cake when she was visited by staff from the school.

“Families and individuals most at risk were identified by local churches, those involved in community work and the local Co-op. Staff have gone above and beyond to offer support to the community we serve and we are particularly grateful to the freemen and all those who made contributions to our cause,” said head teacher Mrs Natalie Maughan.

The freemen’s £300 gift to the Salvation Army’s work provided a “very valuable addition” to monies contributed towards the cost of finding permanent and temporary accommodation to homeless men and women who were sleeping on the city’s streets.

Church leader Darryn Hook said coronavirus forced the eventual closure of their Sanctuary 21 café in Saddler Street, ending their provision of meals and support to those sleeping “rough.”

“We worked with the county council and other organisations to find them permanent or temporary accommodation across the wider county. The money from the freemen, and other donor organisations, allowed us to source cookers, microwaves, televisions, paint and decorating equipment to make their accommodation feel a more permanent place. For up to 20 individuals we have achieved some very positive outcomes and there are fewer people living on the streets of Durham as a result,” he said.

Ten underprivileged children will be spending a happier Christmas in three refuge centres in County Durham as a result of the freemen’s donation to local representatives of a national charity.

Their £250 gift is a key starter to covering the cost of a box of toys, each worth in excess of £80, which will be delivered at Christmas under a scheme run by the charity Kids Out UK.

“Regional ambassador for the charity, Norman Sellar (Consett Rotary), explained: “: “There are 180 children sheltering with a parent in the 16 refuges in the region stretching from the Tweed to the Tees. Donations from rotary clubs across the region, as well as individual gifts like those from the freemen, will underwrite the total cost of providing toys for every child.”

Eric Bulmer, who chairs the freemen’s charitable trust, said: “We are delighted our gifts have provided the building blocks for support work delivering much-needed help to the needy of all ages at this particularly challenging time.”


Freemen Play Key Role In Launch Of Life-Saving Medical Network

At the start of this year three Rotary Clubs - Durham Bede, Durham and Durham Elvet – secured permission and funds to give the public 24-hour-a-day access to Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in the Market Place and on Palace Green fronting Durham Cathedral.

The trio set themselves a target of £5,000 and reached their goal with a crucial £800 gift from the city’s freemen, alongside other key contributions from the Shakespeare Temperance Trust and the Durham Area Action Partnership. The project was due to be launched in March but was put on hold by the coronavirus outbreak.

But, in the vacuum created by the national lockdown, the region’s 54 rotary clubs took the opportunity to develop more wide-ranging proposals, costing tens of thousands of pounds. Their plan will give members of the public access to scores of machines – each with a proven nation-wide record of saving lives – across an area stretching from the Scottish Borders in the north, to the North Yorkshire border in the south and the Pennines to the west.

Tom Sharples Lead for Durham City Defibrillator Project, Mary Kelly Foy MP for Durham City,
Barbara Broadbelt Rotary North East Governor

The Market Place machine went “live” on Friday, July 31st and its’ twin on Palace Green is expected to be up and running within weeks. Rotarians hope to add up to 100 installations to the existing North East Ambulance Service regional network by the end of next year. Each of the self-contained units gives the public access to a machine - along with simple operating instructions - to deliver a high energy electric shock to victims in the immediate aftermath of a cardiac arrest.

Spokesman Tom Sharples said each rotary club was committed to improving the lives of everyone in their local communities and the latest proposals provided the opportunity for the region’s 54 clubs to unite in a common cause.

“The first two defibrillators, in the Market Place and on the approach to Durham Cathedral, are important and well-known thoroughfares used by many tens of thousands of local people and visitors to the city during the course of a year. Other sites identified within the regional network will also be positioned in similarly busy areas.

“UK NHS ambulances are targeted to reach people who have suffered a cardiac arrest in eight minutes and the defibrillators are the key to improving survival. An electric shock delivered within three to five minutes of a cardiac arrest improves survival odds between fifty and eighty per cent. This project has the potential for saving many lives,” said Mr Sharples.

Eric Bulmer, chairman of the freemen’s charitable trust, said: “We were pleased to offer our support to Rotary’s very laudable Durham City initiative which provides a vital facility for both our community and visitors to our city. We are doubly delighted that during lockdown the same life-saving opportunity will soon be available to a great many more people across the region.”


Durham Rotary Clubs Face Mask Initiative

The initiative is coordinated by Tom Sharples Community Chair of Durham Elvet Rotary, who with a small group of dedicated volunteers, are becoming proficient machinists as they produce hundreds of face masks.

The Freemen’s donation will go towards the purchase of fabric and elastic to enable them to continue with their project.

Tom, who can be contacted by :

telephone: 07538942129 or email:,

will be pleased to hear from anyone who would like to volunteer to support the project, or who can provide details of any vulnerable groups/individuals within the community who would like face masks.

The Freemen welcome the opportunity to congratulate Tom and his volunteers together with Durham Rotary, for their initiative in supporting the community in these challenging times.

An attractive collage of face masks produced by the Tom is set out below.


Freemen's Grand Response to Hospital's Cancer Care Appeal

Durham's hospital bosses, campaigning to raise more than £2 million to tackle an overwhelming rise in demand for cancer treatment, have offered a thousand thanks to the city’s freemen for responding to their appeal.

A total of 2020 businesses, organisations, groups and schools county-wide are being sought to make a £1,000 donation towards the cost of the “big build” – the creation of a centre of excellence for cancer care at the University Hospital of North Durham.

The existing chemotherapy day unit at the hospital struggles to meet the needs of ever increasing numbers being diagnosed, particularly across the main cancer groups of bowel, prostate, breast and lung cancer – which represent some of the biggest increases in England. To alleviate pressure at the Durham City hospital some patients are being sent to Newcastle and Middlesbrough for treatment.

The County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust admits it faces many challenges as it invests to support the largest trust in the north east with eight hospitals. The immediate need in investment priority, says the trust, is to provide new Accident and Emergency and new theatres and on that basis the chemotherapy unit would be many years away from reality without charitable funding.

Alan Ribchester, a member of the freemen’s charitable trust, said he and his colleagues had no hesitation in pledging their £1,000 towards the cost of helping buy vital equipment for the centre.

“The men and women within our ranks are well aware of the ever increasing incidence of the various forms of cancer and there are few families who have not been touched by the disease in one form or another. We all feel privileged to be able to help provide the new enhanced and sorely needed centre of excellence in our city,” he said.

The NHS foundation trust’s charity development manager, Pat Chambers, explained: “We are working hard to deliver this new centre of excellence in cancer care here in Durham funded through charitable giving. The reality is that without the help of organisations and businesses like the City of Durham Freemen we would simply not be able to make this vision a reality.”

It is hoped work on the centre could begin early next year and be operational within 12 months of the start date. The support of each donor will be recognised with an inscription on the “2020 wall of honour” within the new building.


Freemen Embrace Citys Plan To Replace Lost Trees

A total of 70 deciduous trees were felled before building work could start on the controversial development which was opposed by many, including the freemen.

But, under a joint “green” initiative led by Durham’s parish councillors and the city’s churches, more than 110 saplings of seven species of native trees have been planted to compensate for the loss. At a special ceremony 40 primary and secondary schoolchildren, along with volunteers from community groups, carried out the work within a semi-circular area fringing the Sands.

The freemen, whose ancient herbage rights give them a controlling interest in access to the Sands, welcomed the partnership’s move to mitigate the loss of trees.

Councillor Richard Ormerod, Durham City Freemen John Booth, Kathleen Vasey and Eric Bulmer with Councillor David Freeman

Eric Bulmer, chairmen of the freemen’s charitable trust and warden of the Plumbers’ Company, said: “We were more than pleased to support the local community in their endeavours to promote a ‘green’ initiative for the city which makes a contribution to the damaging effects of climate change.”

Councillor Saul Cahill with Councillor Victoria Ashfield and Eric Bulmer Durham City Freemen

Councillor Victoria Ashfield, who chairs the parish council’s environment committee, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with the freemen on this event. The tree planting is connected to our huge commitment to improving our environment and we are delighted local schools and community groups have been involved in making the city cleaner and greener.”

Kirsty Thomas, secretary of the Durham Churches Together group, who sought the freemen’s help, said the saplings around the edge of the Sands would “lessen the sense of bitter disappointment” felt after the loss of trees near the Pennyferry Bridge and signal the “Climate Emergency” was being taken seriously.

“Trees are one sure way of mitigating the consequences of carbon but have so many other advantages, not least in providing beauty in the environment, which aids a sense of wellbeing,” she added.

Brandon Boxing Club


Boxers, crime-fighters and a village primary school’s mission to help families facing severe hardship, have all benefited from pre-festive gifts from Durham City Freemen’s Charitable Trust.

And their £300 donation to enthusiasts at Brandon Boxing Club has proved an instant big hit – underpinning the lion’s share of costs of a new punch bag, replacement gloves and other key pieces of kit.

The club, operating for the last seven years from a purpose-built gym within the village cricket club’s multi-sport complex, is led by volunteer coaches.

A third of its 150 members are female – and a fifty-strong “rookie” section caters for youngsters aged from five to eleven. Two dozen of their leading exponents take part in regular competitions and one them, 17-year-old Megan Bainbridge, is an England Boxing national champion.

“Funding for volunteer-led organisations like ours is a constant challenge and the freemen’s generosity has allowed us to ditch kit desperately in need of replacement,” said competition secretary Alex Oliver, a 41-year-old civil servant awarded the British Empire Medal in 2017 for services to the sport.

Durham Agency Against Crime


The Durham Agency Against Crime’s £500 share of the latest round of donations will be used to meet the cost of personal protective equipment – vital to maintain their work in a year hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Executive manager Bryan Russell explained: “Without this money it would have made our work much harder and achieving our targets even more difficult.”

The DAAC, a charity launched 30 years ago and closely allied to the county’s police force, spearheads projects involving primary and secondary school pupils and utilises the mentoring skills of volunteer police cadets.

The agency challenges young people’s behaviour, helps steer them away from scenarios leading to potential involvement in crime and works to develop a broader understanding of the people and workings of the communities in which they live.

DAAC youth worker apprentices at Ingleton C of E Primary School on Save the Children day

“We, like many organisations, have to ensure those involved in all projects have access to wipes, masks, gels and sanitisers. The pandemic caught the world by surprise and we, like so many others did not have any resources in place to meet it. The freemen’s intervention has been an enormous help,” he added.


Silver Tree Primary School Ushaw Moor

The £250 given to the Silver Tree Primary School and Nursery in Ushaw Moor is the freemen’s second donation this year in support of staff delivering fortnightly food parcels to 20 at-risk families within their catchment area. Other beneficiaries include pensioners and the disabled, all of them identified by local churches, community workers and the local Co-op store.

Head teacher Mrs Natalie Maughan said: “The donations we received have been invaluable in supporting many of our families facing severe hardship, including some who have lost jobs due to Covid-19. For some elderly and vulnerable members of the community receiving food also represented their only contact with the outside world.

“It has been important not just to support the families of children attending Silver Tree but also the wider community which is very much part of the village. Without such generous support we would not have been able to reach as many.”

Eric Bulmer, chairman of the freemen’s charitable trust, said communities were at the heart of society and caring for the many and varied needs at this most challenging of times put great strain on the resources of charities.

“We are pleased to support them and appreciate the excellent work they do for the most vulnerable among us,” he added.


Durham Christian Partnership Foodbanks

No fewer than 27 independently operated foodbanks across the county are run by the Durham Christian Partnership. And, while grocery parcels offered to the needy are the product of the generosity of individual members of the public, the organisation also needs cash to meet operational overheads.

The freemen’s £250 donation will boost funds covering overheads for Durham’s three centres in Waddington Street and the Elvet Methodist and Sunderland Road Baptist Churches.

The partnership’s chief executive officer, Peter MacLellan, explained: “Four dozen volunteers receive and sort the foodstuffs handed in by the public which are prepared into parcels providing provisions for three days. The fare we offer is also reinforced by foodstuffs from commercial organisations, including supermarkets.

“Cash donations are a vital part of helping meet rental and other costs, which include three full-time staff members involved in running a central warehouse, training and supervising volunteers.”

In addition to immediate help with food supplies, the partnership also offers specialist debt and benefit advice services through Community Money Advice County Durham and works closely with Citizens’ Advice and other related organisations.


The Laurel Avenue Association

A lockdown-hit community association, battling to maintain core activities in an area facing severe deprivation, has also been handed a £250 cash windfall by the freemen.

The Laurel Avenue association, a registered charity, operating from a building adjacent to the local primary school, must raise funds to meet all its running costs – which has proved particularly hard this year.

Yet despite the financial squeeze its luncheon club still delivers to more than two dozen senior citizens, has served up 125 daily food packs to children eligible for free school meal during half term, and provided i-pads to allow youngsters to study at home.

Volunteers have now pulled together Christmas contingency plans, targeting families facing redundancy or struggling on low incomes. It will include visits from Santa and gifts of inexpensive toys, including lego, jigsaws and stationery.

Patrick Conway, who chairs the association’s management committee, said: “While Covid has severely restricted our work at the centre, local volunteers, observing social distancing rules, have been active in visiting residents and providing support as required. Christmas will be challenging financially for many families and this enables the association to provide some festive cheer.”


Durham Action on Single Housing

The independently run Durham Action on Single Housing (DASH), will also benefit from a seasonal boost of £250.

The organisation has more than 50 bed spaces across the county, some of them in the city, accommodating people aged between 16 and 65. Additionally they offer a supportive environment for vulnerable women with multiple and complex needs, helping them access housing and other support services.

Trevor Atkinson, DASH’s business development manager, is one of 18 full and part-time staff backed by 20 volunteers.

He said: “We offer single homeless people and those at risk of homelessness gain more stability in their lives and look to move them on to permanent accommodation. At the same time we reduce costs to other services, like the NHS, social services and the prison service. Our funding comes from the county council, the generosity of people like freemen, charitable activities and events organised by businesses, churches, schools and other groups.”