ONE of the highlights of Middlesbrough’s festive calendar returns on Sunday with more reasons to visit than ever before.

The Frost Fair at Stewart Park expects to welcome thousands of visitors when it opens its doors on Sunday, December 3. The event features more than 50 fabulous food and arts and craft stalls, a Santa’s Grotto, a 30-piece choir and a chance to take a peep inside the £3.5m transformation of a former Victorian stable block.

Hosts Askham Bryan College are throwing open the freshly painted doors of the historic stable block, which is now Central Lodge, a 21st century learning centre, transformed thanks to a £3.2m windfall from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Work on Central Lodge has been taking place for almost all of this year. Its completion has enabled further education students from across the North East and North Yorkshire to join forces to study a range of vocational subjects, including animal management, equine and foundation learning courses.

Simon Clarke, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, officially opened the centre at a ceremony earlier this month. (November)

Nick Barnes, Director of Regional Centres at Askham Bryan College, said: “The Heritage Lottery Fund and Askham Bryan College have given the Central Lodge a new lease of life and we are so excited to be able to share the building and its history with the public to celebrate Stewart Park’s annual Frost Fair.”

The Frost Fair takes place from 9am to 3pm in and around the Askham Bryan College site, which sits at the centre of Stewart Park.

The Northern Dales Farmers’ Markets food and drink stalls will deliver a festive feast fit for a king, while visitors can wander the fair and sing along to some tradition Christmas Carols sung by the Local Vocals, a community choir from Whale Hill in Eston.

Meanwhile the Friends of Stewart Park have managed to persuade their good friend Father Christmas to pop along, and he’ll be listening to youngsters’ Christmas wishes in a grotto, specially made for his arrival.

Children can visit Santa from 11am to 3pm – however parents should be aware he will be disappearing back to the North Pole to feed his reindeer from 12.45pm to 1.15pm.

Heritage talks on the history of the park, from Captain Cook’s birth up to the 2017 renovation, will be provided in the restored dairy of the Central Lodge at 11am, noon and 1pm. Ask at the Visitors’ Centre for more details.