Plans to create a historical leisure park which could bring jobs and tourists to Bishop Auckland have been unveiled this morning.
The Eleven Arches Trust hopes to take 800,000 visitors a year on a 2000 year journey through time at a 115 acre site near Auckland Castle in the town.
Plans would see the first phase, a “large scale, visually stunning” Night Show beginning at dusk and running for 80 minutes, opening in spring 2016. The spectacle would feature the Chapel of Auckland Castle as an illuminated backdrop for large re-enactments, projections, music, water fountains and pyrotechnics.
Anne-Isabelle Daulon, who is leading Eleven Arches, with an aerial view of area
The light show will be a not-for-profit venture which will “tell the history of Britain, but through the lens of the North East,” according to Anne-Isabelle Daulon, who is leading the Eleven Arches project.
Organisers are comparing the planned show to the light and sound display which opened the London 2012 Olympic Games. The Eleven Arches Night Show will be performed 30 times a year to crowds of 6,000 at a time. More than 600 volunteers will be involved in producing the show, which will be operated as a non-profit venture.
A new academy will also be created to train 300 young volunteers between the ages of eight and 25 in the skills required to produce the show.
The second phase of the development would see the night time experience expanded.
“What we aim to provide is a journey through time, from one era to the next, where people have the opportunity to see live in front of their eyes a very fast paced and action packed show,” said Anne-Isabelle Daulon.
“From then onwards you have the opportunity to visit a period village with craftsmen displaying their skills, and you move from one to the next.”
The concept is based on the Puy do Fou attraction near Nantes in France. The production opened in the 1970’s and involves over 3,000 volunteers re-telling the journey from the Middle Ages to the Second World War in France.
The project forms part of Jonathan Ruffer’s vision to enhance County Durham’s reputation as a national and international destination, following the re-opening of Auckland Castle and its new exhibitions.
The night-time spectacular at Puy du Fou is called ‘Cinéscénie’
“On the back of all the encouragement we’ve received from the community in Bishop Auckland and beyond, we are very positive the Eleven Arches concept will work,” explained Jonathan Ruffer, who has donated £2m towards the £20m cost of the initial stage.
“We have a template with a proven track record. Puy do Fou is the best of the best and they are helping us with the project.”
The Eleven Arches development takes its name from the Newton Cap viaduct which crosses the former golf course.
The development has already won local backing from Dr Robert McManners, chairman of Bishop Auckland Civic Society. “This is a wonderfully unique opportunity for the whole community to come together in a shared vision to enable our town to prosper.”
“For a long time the need for ‘something needed to be done’ to re-vitalise Bishop Auckland has been frequently voiced.”
The Eleven Arches Trust say that in 2016 increased footfall in the town from the 180,000 visitors will support business in a reinvigorated Bishop Auckland.
The funding for the first phase will be raised through grants and EU funding, in addition to £2m donated by Jonathan Ruffer. The first phase will create 10 full-time jobs and six seasonal posts, as well as 600 local volunteers.
The second phase, including the day park, is planned to start in 2018. The Trust hope to attract up to 800,000 visitors by 2024.