Work has started on a significant development at Raby Castle, that promises to attract new visitors to the area and create outstanding recreation for the local community.

Known as The Rising, the work will include the significant restoration and rejuvenation of several historical buildings on the estate, the creation of a new café and events space as well as a bespoke children’s adventure playground, which will be in the first phase of the two-year construction programme.

Lord and Lady Barnard welcomed local stakeholders and special guests eight-year-old Ryan Chidzey from Gainford CE Primary and Preschool and eight-year-old Charlotte Hawke from the Federation of Abbey Schools in Darlington, who are the joint winners of a competition to find young local heroes to break the ground and open the site to construction workers.

Ryan, nominated by his headteacher Chris Riley, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare condition that causes chronic fatigue in his muscles. Following a local fundraising campaign spearheaded by Ryan’s parents, £50,000 has been raised for the research breakthrough fund, to try to find a cure for the condition. Ryan has spent a lot of time in hospital over the past year but as his headteacher says, always has a smile on his face.

Charlotte was nominated by her mother Sarah Hawke, for her kindness and thoughtfulness to her community during lockdown, particularly her grandad Edward (84), who until lockdown, she spent time with every day. Teaching him how to FaceTime by donating an old iPhone to him, Sarah says, turned out to be a lifeline for both of them.

Speaking at the breaking ground ceremony this morning, Lord Barnard said: “Today marks the start of the construction phase of this ambitious project, which will deliver wonderful spaces for families to enjoy and to further establish Raby Castle as a must-see visitor destination.

“I am thrilled to be joined today by our deserving local heroes Ryan and Charlotte, both of whom are inspirational young people, and who will be invited to keep a close eye on the building work as it progresses. They will be invited back to test our new children’s adventure playground, before it opens to the public next spring.

“We have spent the last four years planning the development, which promises to put Raby Castle on the map for visitors to the area, as well as providing a beautiful place for the local community to enjoy, all year round.”

The playground has been exclusively designed for Raby by CAP.Co – a specialist company which designs and builds innovative play spaces and has worked on high profile installations across the globe.

The bespoke and inclusive playground features a fully accessible boardwalk through Raby’s Christmas Tree Plantation, opening up a previously inaccessible part of the grounds, as well as three-storey play towers, high-level walkways, tunnels and climbing walls, along with a number of ground-level play trails and slides.

The new attraction also has a purpose-built area for toddlers, with mini turrets and lookout decks – conveniently located next to the brand-new split-level café area.

Construction to the playground has also been carefully designed to cause minimal disruption to the natural surroundings of the Christmas Tree plantation, in order to preserve habitats and ensure no trees are damaged.


CAP.Co’s site manager, Chris Moore, attended the event and said: “Designed in collaboration with the wider team at Raby, the adventure play area has been in development for more than two years. This carefully considered, bespoke new addition to the Raby Castle offering has been inspired by architectural elements within the castle such as The Neville Gateway, but also the many stories associated with the estate, particularly the great story of the Rising of The North.

“Nestled in a stunning woodland within the grounds of Raby Castle, this new adventure play area will be an exciting mix of challenge, discovery and intrigue for all its visitors, both the young and the young at heart.

“The design also ensures that visitors can sample the stunning views of the castle and grounds from the upper seating deck, while adventurers of all ages wind their way through the wonderful world of woodland play at Raby.”

Chairman of Visit County Durham Ltd, Ivor Stolliday commented: “We are thrilled to see work start on The Rising development, which will undoubtedly play a significant role in the county delivering a visitor experience that matches or exceeds the best offered by England’s premier county-based destinations.

“With work getting underway during Durham’s bid to become the UK City of Culture 2025, it further illustrates the incredible cultural experiences that residents and visitors alike can enjoy across the county.”

The new adventure playground’s build schedule is expected to last five months, with doors opening at Easter 2022.

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