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By Andy Potts 

Hockey fans in Durham are celebrating an unexpected haul of honours, three decades after the town lost its rink.

Almost 30 years after the Durham Wasps left Wearside, a clutch of trophies won by the successful ‘Big Blue Machine’ in the late 1980s and early 1990s has been found.

The silverware had spent years hidden in a garage and came to light during preparations for an exhibition into the history of Durham Ice Rink and the community that grew up around it.

Lewis Hobson, who set up last month’s exhibition, was astonished and excited to see the long-lost trophies again.

“For me, this is really the story of the whole project,” he said. “Everyone thought these trophies were gone forever. But when we started asking about people’s memories of the rink, it turned out someone had them in a carrier bag in a garage somewhere.

“Thanks to the exhibition, it’s like they’ve been brought back to life.”

The month-long show at Durham’s Dead Dog Gallery, an exhibition space at the city’s sixth form college just opposite the old rink’s riverside site, was hugely popular.

Former players, referees, skaters and supporters turned out in force to explore an impressive collection of memorabilia. But for Lewis, that’s just the start.

He added: “The next stage is to find a way to keep these trophies safe and make sure they don’t disappear back into someone’s garage for another 30-odd years.”

The treasure trove ended up in the hands of Rex Brown, the rink’s final owner. It was salvaged by workmen demolishing a property belonging to Mr Brown and was put aside and almost forgotten.

The collection includes Heineken Play-off trophies, a Norwich Union Autumn Cup and several Castle Eden Cups, presented to the winner of the northeast’s popular local contest between the Wasps, Whitley Warriors, Cleveland Bombers and Crowtree Chiefs.

However, it represents only about 20 per cent of what was believed to be in the Wasps’ trophy cabinet when the rink closed in 1996.

Years of neglect mean there is some work needed to restore the cups to peak condition. Then, hopefully, a permanent home can be found for them in Durham.

“It’s a bit scary to be in charge of this legacy,” Lewis admitted. “The responsibility is a bit much for one person. We need an organisation with the expertise to restore and conserve them, but to do that we need to explain the importance of these objects and the story behind them.

“Once we get someone on board, suddenly everybody wants to help, but making that first step is always difficult.”

Following the success of the exhibition, Lewis and film-maker Carl Joyce are working on a documentary film about the community that thrived on and around the ice.

Looking beyond the Wasps’ success in the Heineken League era, it also hopes to explore the enduring friendships that were forged among the people who used the rink regularly.

The documentary is being supported as part of Into the Light, County Durham’s Place Partnership programme funded by Durham County Council and Arts Council of England.

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