The South Park Express pays tribute to Darlington’s railway heritage and incorporates elements including sliding, climbing and imaginative play. The design was chosen after consultation with members of the public.

The South Park Express was unveiled by Cllr Nick Wallis and Karl Gordon from Darlington Bondgate Roundtable, which, along with a number of local people and businesses, donated to the fundraising appeal.

Lisa Locke, Programme Manager at Groundwork NE & Cumbria, was instrumental in coordinating the fundraising. She said: “I’m very pleased that we have now completed the installation of the South Park Express. Seeing the children making the most of it is really pleasing after months of fundraising.

“The community spirit I have witnessed during this fundraising campaign has been phenomenal. People, businesses and organisations have dug deep and given what they can to make sure that children have the fantastic play area they deserve in their local park.

“The fact that we have been able to raise the money, design the play area and get it installed in time for the summer holidays is amazing. It just goes to show what a fantastic place Darlington can be.

“I have many fond memories of trips to the park with own children, and I’m pleased that Groundwork has been able to help other people do the same.”

Karl Gordon from Darlington Bondgate Roundtable said: “I’m honoured to be involved with the opening ceremony of the South Park Express on behalf of Darlington Bondgate Roundtable. It was such a tragedy when the last play area was destroyed by mindless vandals, but the way the town rallied around the cause was truly inspiring.

“Parks are a communal asset and should be enjoyed by all, which is why everyone at the Bondgate Roundtable felt so strongly that we should support the fundraising campaign. I’m pleased that we were able to help.”

Cllr Nick Wallis, Darlington Borough Council’s Cabinet member for leisure and local environment, added: “We’re delighted that through the efforts and generosity of many local residents, community groups and companies we’ve been able to work with Groundwork NE & Cumbria to restore the popular toddler play area in time for the summer holidays.

“South Park holds a special place in the hearts of many, who were horrified by the mindless vandalism and it was with the local community’s help that Police were able to identify those responsible, whose punishment included carrying out unpaid work in the park.

“We hope the new South Park Express play equipment will become another firm favourite within the park and is enjoyed by families for many years to come.”

Inspector Chris Knox, of Darlington Police, said: “The support from the community has been absolutely fantastic to get the play area up and running again. We now need to protect it to ensure no further incidents happen in the future.”