Ambitious plans to spur growth, spur creativity and celebrate the extraordinary people and places in County Durham have been presented to the jury for the UK’s City of Culture 2025.
An exciting and immersive schedule of activities was organized for the judges’ much-anticipated visit yesterday, which follows the pre-selection of Durham’s county-wide bid in March.
County Durham is vast and varied and the aim is to shine a light on the county in all its forms, while demonstrating how the pioneering and inclusive cultural program being developed for 2025 would reinvigorate the whole region.
Historic Durham, Wild Durham and Industrial Durham were all represented on the tour, with the judges splitting into groups to allow as much of the county as possible to be shown.
The day began in Durham City at Redhills, the historic headquarters of the Durham Miners’ Association whose motto inspired the title of County Durham’s bid – “Into the Light: The past we herit the future we build”.
As part of the visit, some panel members traveled to Dawdon on the east coast, where they met locals who are engaged in a community arts project called Beaches of Dreams. Judges were able to immerse themselves in an outdoor installation the band created with handmade flags They also heard how the installation is related to Black to Green, a project being developed as part of the bid which explores the evolution of juggernaut county from coal mining to green power plant.
Other panel members traveled to Bishop Auckland to learn about major regeneration projects underway in the area. This included learning about the work of the Auckland Project, with a visit to the Spanish Gallery and No 42, where a community lunch was held. The judges were also introduced to representatives of local tourism businesses.
The third group, meanwhile, visited Durham City, where they explored the county’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, which includes Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle. Other highlights include a visit to Prebends Bridge to enjoy views captured by world renowned painter JMW Turner, a glimpse into a secret garden and a presentation on county bids to raise funding.
The judges gathered for lunch at the New Durham Working Men’s Club in the city. Here they enjoyed the warm welcome and camaraderie for which the area is famous, as well as some of the culture of County Durham immortalized in the works of the Pitman Painters. However, there was a 21st turn of the century, with live performances and guests representing the heart and soul of the county. The judges heard how it relates to No Frills, Thrill Me, a Durham 2025 project that will challenge performers to entertain audiences in simple locations without the aid of props and special effects.
The food was provided by REfUSE, a social enterprise committed to reducing food waste, while serving imaginative dishes at its ‘pay as you feel’ community café in Chester-le-Street.
The tour ended at the Ogden Centre, where the judges heard about the work of Durham University‘s Cosmology and Astrophysics departments. They also learned how this important research helped inspire Light Year, a year-long cultural program celebrating the region’s 1,300-year history of astronomy and space science.
The Durham 2025 campaign is led by Durham County Council, Durham University and Culture Durham, a partnership of over 20 cultural organizations from across the county.
Cllr Amanda Hopgood, Leader of Durham County Council, said: ‘Durham is such a diverse county and while it’s impossible to show the judges everything when they visit, we really want to give them a taste of the variety that exists here.
“It is also important to us that the judges meet the people who will benefit if County Durham is named UK City of Culture 2025. Whether it is our communities who will be able to access exciting new opportunities or our businesses, who would benefit from the increase number of visitors that our 2025 program would attract.
“County Durham has a rich heritage, beautiful countryside, spectacular coastline, world-class festivals and events and award-winning cultural venues and attractions. However, we also face challenges. Developing our bid has provided tangible evidence that the cultural, economic and well-being changes we need to realize our huge untapped potential can be achieved or catalyzed through UK City of Culture 2025.”
Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “We are delighted to be able to give the judges insight into the wonderful places and people in our county.
“As a university, we are proud to be an integral part of our regional community and Durham University’s museums, collections, tourist attractions and cultural activities are an integral part of what County Durham has to offer.
“Achieving City of Culture status would be a game-changer for our region which is brimming with innovation, opportunity and passion to help our communities thrive.
Tony Harrington, Chairman of Culture Durham, said: “Today we have the chance to showcase our amazing county to the UK Culture City judges and share our ambitious plans for the future. The tour will shine a light on some of our amazing people and places, but if our bid is successful, we’ll spread the opportunities it creates to every corner of the county.
“Being part of the UK City of Culture 2025 competition is such a privilege and we are incredibly proud to have come this far. We are ready to go all the way and show our nation and the world the potential that exists here.
This year, for the first time, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has expanded the UK Culture City competition to allow counties and districts to apply, resulting in a record 20 applications. In March, County Durham was one of only four places to make the shortlist. The winner is expected to be announced later this month.
Should County Durham be granted the title, it would bring colossal social and economic benefits to the entire region. This includes creating thousands of jobs, boosting the creative economy and millions of pound visitors, empowering residents and improving community wellbeing.
And with the county’s increased national and international profile and appeal, the benefits of being UK City of Culture 2025 will be felt for years to come.
To find out more about Durham’s county-wide bid to be UK City of Culture 2025, visit www.durham2025.co.uk and follow the Durham 2025 social media accounts at www.facebook.com/Durham2025 , www.twitter.com/durham_2025 or www.instagram.com/Durham2025_