Darlington Building Society has pledged its support for plans to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the world’s first public railway.

Work has now officially started on the construction of Darlington’s Railway Heritage Quarter, which will be at the heart of the bicentennial anniversary of the world-changing Stockton and Darlington Railway in 2025.

And Darlington Building Society Chief Executive, Andrew Craddock, was among guests who attended the launch ceremony in which Darlington Borough Council leader, Councillor Heather Scott, dug the first piece of turf in the grounds of Head of Steam railway museum.

The plan – supported by a £20m investment from the Tees Valley Combined Authority – is to transform the Railway Heritage Quarter into a major visitor attraction by 2024, so it can play a central role in the bicentennial celebrations that are expected to attract worldwide attention.

Essential improvements will be made to a number of historic buildings, linking them together to create a cluster of attractions including the Skerne Bridge, the oldest working railway bridge in the world.

Digital and technological investment will bring history to life and plans include a new immersive ride experience, a café, shop, themed play area, showfield, new live engineering building, temporary exhibition space, archive and extended car parking.

Darlington Building Society’s history dates back to 1856 when it was founded as the Darlington Working Men’s Equitable Permanent Building Society for the benefit of local people, just as the town was emerging as a central hub in the development of the modern railway.

Mr Craddock said: “We have been talking to the council about our involvement for the past couple of years so that our heritage in the local community can be used to enhance these important celebrations in 2025.

“We will be the only financial services organisation to be officially part of these historic celebrations and we are looking forward to exploring how that involvement can be maximised.”

Darly’s Magical History Ride, a children’s book produced by the Society, is expected to play its part. The book, written by The Northern Echo’s longest-serving editor, Peter Barron, is about a little blue train who goes back in time through enchanted tunnels. On one stop, he comes across the launch of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

Council leader, Councillor Heather Scott, described the development of Darlington’s Railway Heritage Quarter for the bicentennial celebrations as “a once in a lifetime opportunity”.

“This is a truly momentous occasion,” she added. “It has been a long time coming but we got there!”