The philanthropist behind The Auckland Project Jonathan Ruffer has insisted that the unveiling of a new tourist attraction has the potential to “boost up” Bishop Auckland as a destination in the region.
Mr Ruffer, who has invested millions in the town’s leisure and tourism sectors, including Kynren, Auckland Castle and The Spanish Gallery, was speaking at the unveiling of The Faith Museum; a new immersive experience to show faith through the ages.
The Auckland Project is behind the rebirth of the town as a visitor attraction through the restoration of Auckland Castle, which was for centuries the home of the Bishop of Durham.
It employs 80 people and is also responsible for the Binchester Roman fort, the Weardale Railway and the Mining Art Gallery in the Market Place.
The Faith Museum, which will open on October 7, has been ten years in the making, and has been made possible with a £12.4m grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Multi-millionaire Mr Ruffer, who arrived in Bishop Auckland in 2012, initially set out a 25-year vision and believes that the faith museum is the “grandfather piece” in the “masterplan of the town”.
Speaking to The Northern Echo at the unveiling, Mr Ruffer said: “In the chronology of The Auckland Project, the Faith Museum should have come first – but it’s turned out that it’s almost the last thing to be done and could be one of the most important.
“It’s a place for the people of Bishop Auckland because it doesn’t matter if you believe in faith or not, the museum is a place to immerse yourself in the history of faith.”
When quizzed on how the facility will benefit every person in Bishop Auckland, Mr Ruffer highlighted the historical importance of the town and “restoring” this importance back in Bishop Auckland.
He added: “Bishop Auckland is a great place steeped in history and 250 years ago, it was a great commercial hub alongside Newcastle.
“We want to restore this importance back to the town and it’s about brushing the brick dust off and building the town together.”
This opening in Bishop Auckland comes a year after Mr Ruffer removed his threat to pull the plug on his £50,000-a-day funding for Bishop Auckland in a bid to bring peace and unity to the town.
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In March 2022, he announced he was considering pulling his funding to The Auckland Project, which was estimated to be around £200m, because of a row with Durham County Council over how £53m of Government “levelling up” money allocated to Bishop Auckland should be spent.
On that occasion, Mr Ruffer replaced his threat with an olive branch – a move that was welcomed by Durham County Council, who have set out their own vision of how Bishop Auckland could thrive in the future.
Moving forward, the philanthropist has said that the Auckland Castle Gardens would be the next piece in the campaign for The Auckland Project – which Mr Ruffer has called “vital” to bring people back “year after year,” as well as renovating other parts of the Castle grounds.