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(Northern Echo, June 2016)

With the model one brick short of its 300,000 target, you could say the Lego team members in Durham are doing their best to block out all negative thoughts emanating from China.

Les, a civil servant for 40 years , volunteered to work on Durham Cathedral's Lego project when it was first launched three years ago and he saw an advert in the Durham Times. "I've always liked making models so my wife suggested I should apply."

It is a brilliant concept – visitors are asked to pay £1 a brick to build the scale model replica, with the proceeds going towards the development of the Open Treasure exhibition which opens on Saturday, July 23. The exhibition tells the story of the cathedral through its collections and history.

And now, with the climax tantalisingly in sight, Les and his fellow 11 Lego volunteers are on high alert to make sure there is no Chinese-style catastrophe.

"We've had a few hiccups but nothing on that scale," says Les. "We had a woman who swung round with a big ruck-sack on her back and took out one of the towers. I'm not sure she even realised what she'd done but it's Lego – so we just rebuilt it. I wouldn't want to stop anyone getting up close because it's such a beautiful thing but we just have to be on our toes at all times – especially now we're down to the last brick."

Les, who lives at Langley Park, freely admits that being a Lego volunteer has been a highlights of his life. So what happens when the final brick is laid and the model is complete?

"Oh, I've already agreed to be a volunteer at the Open Treasure Exhibition – I'd miss being around the place too much," says Les.

It seems he just can't Lego.

BEFORE we leave this subject, I'm delighted to have a Durham Lego scoop.

I can exclusively reveal that the final brick purchased for the cathedral model will be for the sanctuary knocker on the North Door.This may remind Blue Peter fans of the time Durham Cathedral's sanctuary knocker went down in television folklore. A replica had been produced to replace the ancient original and Blue Peter presenter Simon Groom famously announced: "What a magnificent pair of knockers." Ever it was, the pair of knockers caused quite a stir.

Anyway, if you want to enter into the spirit of this splendid enterprise, you can donate by texting Lego16 £2 to 70070. Meanwhile, lottery tickets for the final brick are being sold alongside the model in the Undercroft foyer of the cathedral.

Hurry up – opportunity knockers.

TALKING of opportunities, it would be remiss of me not to wish Andy Richardson every success as he succeeds me in the editor's chair.

In 2007, Andy left a senior role in public relations to take a big pay cut to become a trainee journalist on The Northern Echo's sports desk. Anyone who is willing to take a chance like that is worth watching and he quickly climbed the career ladder to become business editor.

At the risk of upsetting some talented former colleagues, he is, in my opinion, the best business editor I've worked with. He has demonstrated through his outstanding coverage of major business stories, such as the closure of the SSI steel plant at Redcar, and the opening of the Hitachi train-making factory at Newton Aycliffe, that he is a first-class journalist.

He also happens to be a thoroughly decent, fair man. I wish him well – and challenge him to beat my 17 years in the hotseat.

A LETTER has arrived from the Year 5 pupils at New Marske Primary School, inviting me to a "Queen's Birthday Picnic" next Friday.

"Sorry to disturb you but have you heard about the royal party in the well respected school (New Marske Primary) which contains the award-winning Mr Painter," it begins. "Looking ahead to June 10th, we are inviting celebrities to celebrate The Queen's birthday and it would be a pleasure if you turned up. Make sure you bring a coat. It may be cold or raining."

Celebrity? Well, how could I say 'no'?

This is the reply I've sent: "Dear Year 5 pupils, I'd be delighted to accept your invitation to The Queen's Birthday Picnic. However, I'd like the following to be included: Earl Grey tea, ham sandwiches, sausage rolls, pork pies, Pringles, Curly Wurlies, Sherbert Dabs, Hula Hoops, Scotch eggs, cheese scones, fruit scones banana cake, pickled onions, chocolate eclairs, treacle tarts, strawberry gateau, cheese and biscuits, and some Dandelion and Burdock to wash it all down."

I'm easily pleased.

WHEN a four-year-old boy accidentally knocked over a valuable Lego sculpture in China last week, there was a collective intake of breath within the hallowed walls of Durham Cathedral. "Bricking it" would be an undignified description.

News of the disaster in the North-East province of Zhejiang just happened to coincide with the announcement that a "lottery" has been launched in the North-East of England, with the prize being the honour of placing the final brick on a magnificent Lego model of Durham Cathedral.

A Chinese artist called Mr Zhao had spent three days and nights, at a cost of 100,000 yuan ($20,000), building his own Lego model of Nick, the fox, from the Disney film Zootopia, but within hours of it going on display, the boy had leant on it and demolished it.

​"It was an absolute horror story," said 66-year-old Les Hancock, Durham Cathedral's lead Lego volunteer. "What happened in China doesn't bear thinking about."


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FEATURE - Blocking out the bad news