FEATURE: County Durham bid for UK City of Culture 2025 | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Jake Jarratt

After Sunderland was shortlisted for the UK City of Culture 2021 in 2018, the buzz around the city was infectious; even though it lost out to Coventry, the process seemed to galvanise organisations and local government to inject investment into the region. Fast-forward three years, and the city’s successes have been numerous – the regeneration of heritage building the Fire Station into a world-class venue is due to open later this year, young people are given more opportunities than ever thanks to the likes of Young Musicians Project and Pop Recs Ltd., and Sunderland Culture’s work across artistic venues in the region has been a great example of the legacy the bid can have on a city.

There’s no doubt that these outcomes are on the mind of those involved in County Durham’s bid for 2025’s UK City of Culture as the entire county puts its hat in the ring.

Those lucky enough to live in and around County Durham will already know of its delights; from world class museums and heritage venues like Beamish, the Auckland Project, Raby Castle and Durham Cathedral, to grassroots spaces like Old Cinema Launderette and The Witham.

Those involved in the bid are keen to stress the potential it has to bring investment and strengthen the area’s already robust cultural offering. And, while those larger venues who rely so heavily on the tourism dollar will no doubt play a major part in the success of the bid, the region’s grassroots organisations and independent performers stand to benefit just as much.

Richard Turner runs Gilesgate’s Old Cinema Launderette, a go-to space for live music in quirky surroundings. He believes the bid would only serve to accentuate the riches already on offer in the region: “I am backing County Durham’s bid to be UK City of Culture as I believe it would create opportunities for us to showcase what is on offer here. It would also provide a great boost to cultural venues, which not only contribute to the economy but are a place where people can get together and unwind. By day, The Old Cinema Launderette is a traditional launderette and coffee shop but by night we transform into a unique gig venue. The atmosphere is brilliant and, for me, enjoying live music with friends is what culture is all about.”

For Lizzie Glazier, programme manager at the Gala Theatre in Durham city, the bid would help them to engage with more people across the region. “Everyone has the right to participate in the cultural life of the community. We work across County Durham from our base in the city. Touring our free family show to communities this summer allowed audiences to enjoy live performance on their doorsteps. Winning UK City of Culture 2025 would provide more opportunities for everyone to engage with culture – creating, participating and enjoying new experiences alongside the wonderful cultural activities already taking place in County Durham.”

Comedian Lee Ridley, aka Lost Voice Guy, grew up in the area and feels the opportunities for young people would be paramount. “I’m very proud to be from County Durham and that’s why I’m backing its UK City of Culture bid 100 per cent. Growing up with the likes of Beamish Museum, the Gala Theatre and Durham Cathedral on my doorstep was definitely a big benefit to me and helped me get into culture at an early age. So it would be great for the next generation of young people to be able to experience something similar.”

For drag performer Tess Tickle, the bid would serve to highlight the diversity and inclusivity of the region. “County Durham has come so far over the years especially with regards to equality and diversity. As a drag queen growing up in a mining village within the county, I have had nothing but love and support from a community that I would say isn’t always given the recognition it deserves. This bid gives us the chance to share with the world the amazing creations that are made right here in County Durham. If we can showcase what we do here it’s only going to grow our county, not only encouraging more and more people to visit the area but driving equality and diversity forward.”

The potential for investment in the area is an aspect of the bid which County Durham-based actor and theatre maker Jake Jarratt is particularly excited about. “What really appeals to me is that this is a bid for the whole of County Durham. This is a chance to showcase the talent and potential that exists in communities across the county and to build on what is already going on to create even more opportunities. If we can grow County Durham’s reputation as a cultural destination, we can encourage more arts organisations to come here and offer new and exciting things.”

Dr Stephen Cronin, director of the Durham Fringe Festival which made its debut this summer, agrees the region’s variety is part of its appeal: “County Durham is a highly creative county with an established appetite for live performance of all types. There’s an amazing history of creativity which continues to be a key part of our lives and we thoroughly deserve to be the UK City of Culture 2025.”

The winning location will be announced in May 2022, with a final shortlist announced early next year. Organisers are encouraging people to get behind the bid by sharing pictures of their favourite County Durham places on social media with the hashtag #Durham2025.

Keep up to date with what’s going on the region, as well as the potential for future opportunities, via their website.


Image: Tess Tickle

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