VOLUNTEERS behind a charity shopping event in County Durham have smashed through the half a million pounds barrier after 30 years of dedicated fundraising.

The Durham Shopping Extravaganza has drawn to a close with the handover of £33,600 to the four principal beneficiaries from this year’s event held in October.

After raising a record £35,000 at the event, held at Ramside Hall Hotel, near Durham, a last-minute rally for donations from current, retired committee members and loyal supporters took the total beyond £500,000.

Further donations will be made to additional charities in the new year, before the DSE is officially wound up.

The decision to call it a day was taken due to GDPR, changing shopping habits, venue restrictions and anticipated decline in sponsorship.

Co-chair Nicky Swan said: “All the money has been raised in County Durham and, critically, has been kept within the area, benefiting over 100 charities and, through them, countless individuals across the county.

“It is the most extraordinary achievement by the most amazing group of ladies. I don’t think those who started the DSE 30 years ago could have imagined what it would become, the friendships that have formed and, most importantly, the amount of money that has been raised.”

On behalf of the committee, Nicky thanked stallholders, who donated ten per cent of their takings, the loyal shoppers who supported the event year after year, volunteers, advertisers, venues, entertainers, raffle donors, County Durham Community Foundation, Ribchesters accountants and Barclays. Special credit was given to the dedicated major sponsors and donors BHP Law, Lycetts, Brewin Dolphin, Fred Henderson MG and Parklane Plowden Chambers.

John Pratt, managing partner of BHP Law, said: “It is a remarkable achievement to have raised so much and helped so many charities. We were delighted to help in a small way and we send our congratulations and thanks to the committee and volunteers, who should be so proud of what they have achieved.”

The beneficiaries this year, who each received £8,400, were Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services (UTASS), the North East Autism Society, Grace House in Sunderland and three local branches of PHAB (physically handicapped and able bodied) in Durham, Seaham and Stockton & Billingham.

Sue Topping, of Seaham PHAB, said: “The amount is amazing and will enable us to subsidise transport costs to provide days out for people who would otherwise stay in the house. It means they can socialise and take part in some of the activities we organise.”

Karen Maclennan, senior fundraiser at Grace House, said the money would go towards enhancing short breaks at Grace House for children and young people with complex disabilities, life limiting conditions and health issues. “We are so grateful for the wonderful donation,” she added.

Emma Spry, of UTASS, said: “It’s absolutely amazing, I can’t believe how much has been donated and it was lovely to be at the DSE and being part of it for two days. The money will go towards the services we provide for our 700 members in agriculture, including helping them with complex paperwork and providing internet access from our Middleton-in-Teesdale hub.”

Lisa Taylor, of the North East Autism Society, which was introduced to the DSE by former editor of The Northern Echo Peter Barron, said the money would be used to launch a new toddler group, and its family support service in Durham.

She explained: “We provide a range of services for families living with autism including care, education, employment services and short breaks, but this amazing amount of money will allow us to launch our new toddler group within the next year. Thank you so much, it will make a huge difference.”