A popular County Durham community venue is getting a new lease of life after a five-figure grant from a regional employer paid for the installation of a new kitchen and a much-needed redecoration of the whole building.
For the last few years, the management committee at the Neasham Reading Room has been running a campaign called Fit for the Community, which was designed to enable improvements to be made to the fabric of the 115 year-old building that would give it a sustainable future and encourage more local people to use it.
Having raised the funds need to upgrade its heating system, install a hearing loop and purchase new furniture, the committee applied to the County Durham-based Banks Group for funding for the next stage of the project.
And now, an £11,000 grant from the Banks Community Fund has allowed work to go ahead, with Neasham-based contractor Brindle Construction being awarded the contract to carry it out.
As well as paying for a whole new kitchen with floor-to-ceiling storage to be installed, the grant has also allowed for the repainting of the Reading Room’s walls and ceilings, the sanding and repainting of its woodwork and refinishing of its floor
And it is hoped that the improvements made will encourage more local people to consider holding their private events at the volunteer-run venue.
Neasham Reading Room serves the parishes of Neasham and Eryholme, and hosts a wide range of community events and activities, ranging from ukulele, whist and keep fit clubs through to dances, local history talks and the annual community pantomime.
Tina Murray, treasurer at Neasham Reading Room, says: “The Reading Room is the only venue of its type in our community and it’s already really well used, but the need to improve the building’s fabric as part of giving it a sustainable future has become ever more apparent, which is why we set up our Fit for the Community campaign.
“We’ve been able to achieve a lot over the last few years, but without the support that we’ve had from the Banks Group, making these major improvements would have remained out of reach and we would have had to muddle on for the foreseeable future.
“We’ve been able to get the work required done at a relatively quiet time of the year, and with a packed programme of events planned for the future, we’re excited about showing off just how great the Reading Room now looks to as many people as possible.
“Venues like the Reading Room have a crucial role to play in tackling social isolation in this sort of community, and we hope the improvements we’ve made will encourage and enable even more people to spend time with us in the future.” 
Lewis Stokes, community relations manager at the Banks Group, adds: “The progress that the volunteer Reading Room team has already made in improving the building is extremely impressive, and we’re very pleased to be playing our part in securing the future of this hugely valuable community venue.”
The Banks Community Fund provides grants for community groups and voluntary organisations in the vicinity of Banks Group projects.  Anyone interested in applying for funding should contact James Eaglesham at the Banks Community Fund on 0191 378 6342 to check if their group or project is eligible.