THE first of five community venues saved from closure by a housing company has reopened and residents are now being urged to use it so they don’t lose it.

Dale and Valley Homes, which manages around 4,000 former council houses in the Wear Valley area, stepped in to save halls previously run by Durham County Council.

Since the takeover last August they have been refurbishing the facilities and on Thursday the first completed centre at Mickle Grove, in Coundon, near Bishop Auckland, was reopened.

The centre now houses a village Post Office, can hold community activities, is available for groups to hire and will host information and advice sessions by specialist services.

Wifi facilities will enable people to access the internet, as many residents may otherwise not be able to pay for it, and all five halls could hold courses and social activities.

Amy Glendinning, community development co-ordinator with Dale and Valley Homes, said: “We took over a number of community buildings, some will be turned into dwellings where homes are needed, some demolished if not needed or in a poor condition and where we recognised the need for the facility we’re turning them in to hubs.

“We need people to use them now, it is a resource for them so we want to encourage community ownership so it serves local needs and is viable long term or they could face losing it in future.

“Hopefully they will provide access to valuable services, for example helping people in their search for a job, but also get people socialising which is of huge value too.”

Durham County Councillor for Coundon, Charlie Kay, said: “Mickle Grove has been turned into a one stop community hub, it will be a fantastic benefit for the community in so many ways.

“The money has been put in, now it has to pay for itself and people will have to make good use of it to keep it going in future.”

Open days will be held at the centres Stanley Way, in Billy Row, on Tuesday, August 5, and Wheatbottom, at Crook, on Thursday, August 7, both from 10am to 12.30pm.

Work will start in September on the halls at Dovedale Avenue, in Sunnybrow, and Selby Close, in St Helen Auckland.

Anyone interested in hiring the centres, at a rate of £5 per hour or £35 a day, should contact 0300-2000194.