County Durham has moved a step closer to finding out if they could win 2025 UK City of Culture status, as judges visited the county this week as part of the county’s efforts to win the title. The visit came after County Durham reached the final shortlist in March along with Bradford, Southampton and Wrexham County Borough.
The judges began their day in Durham City at the historic home of the Durham Miner’s Association, Redhills. The motto of the Association helped inspire the title of the County Durham’s bid, “Into the Light: The past we inherit, the future we build”. The panel of 11 judges then split up into three groups and went to explore more of the wider region.
One group travelled to Dawdon on the coast to allow them to see the community arts project, Beaches of Dream, while another group travelled to Bishop Auckland to see the major regeneration project of the area, including the Spanish Gallery. A third group remained in Durham City to explore the UNCESCO World Heritage Site, which includes Durham Cathedral.
The judge’s also visited the Ogden Centre at Durham University’s science site, where they learnt about the work carried out by the Universities Cosmology and Astrophysics department. Such research has inspired a cultural programme of events to celebrate the region’s 1,300-year history of astronomy and space science.
Sir Phil Redmond, Chair of the City of Culture Expert Advisory Panel, spoke to attendees at a lunch held at the New Durham Working Men’s Club in Chester-Le-Street, where food was provided by ReFUSE, a social enterprise based in Chester-Le-Street committed to reducing food waste.
He said that “The thing I enjoy about the whole process is seeing how the teams come together and just listening and talking to them about what they are planning to do.
“There are some projects already in train, like the Durham Light Infantry Museum – they were talking about how that might not have happened without the idea of going for the bid, which is fantastic.
“I hope this whole process will galvanise people to carry things through. Even if they don’t get through to build on it and develop and use those partnerships to develop a cultural strategy for the future.
“It’s worked elsewhere, other places like Sunderland who didn’t get [City of Culture] have set up Culture Sunderland which has done great things. I encourage everybody to use the work that has already been done and move forward with it.
Rosie Calladine, a Durham student and local who attended the judge’s lunch commented, “The judges seemed very enthusiastic and inquisitive of the ways we thought the funding from potentially winning City of Culture 2025 could help the community. This included businesses that ‘have potential’ and through the extra funding that would come through the programme ‘would be able to thrive’.
Calladine also said the judges were “inquisitive of personal stories, they wanted to know our personal experience and why we were there.”
Speaking about the judge’s visit, Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University said “We’re thrilled to be able to give the judges a glimpse of the wonderful places and people in our county.
“As a university, we pride ourselves on being very much a part of our regional community and Durham University’s museums, collections, visitor attractions and cultural activities are an integral part of what County Durham has to offer. Gaining City of Culture status would be a game changer for our region which is full of innovation, opportunities and passion to help our communities thrive.”
Tony Harrington, Chair of Culture Durham also commented on the visit by saying “Today we have the chance to showcase our amazing county to the UK City of Culture judges and share our ambitious plans for the future.
“The visit will shine a light on just some of our extraordinary people and places, but if our bid is successful, we will spread the opportunities it creates across all corners of the county.
“Being a 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”.
When asked what would make a successful bid, chief judge Sir Redmond said “It’s about what a particular place wants to be. In Durham’s case, what they want to do with this year of culture and what kind of step changes they want to bring around. It’s about increasing social engagement – linking parts of the county together.
“What we are looking for is the authentic story, the authentic voice of people and what’s really going to make a big impact.. Because it’s not really about who is going to be the biggest, who is the richest or the poorest. It’s about which place will benefit most from the actual year itself.”
The next step of the process for County Durham will be a meeting held in London next week, where all the bidders will be invited to give a two-hour presentation on their bids, and answer questions from the panel. The winner is due to be announced later this month.
Image Credit: Durham 2025 via Twitter