The Auckland Project
The Auckland Project has the regeneration of Bishop Auckland and its community at its heart. This means that social regeneration is valued just as deeply as economic. Our work is ultimately about people trying to help people in a genuine and reciprocal relationship.
Our strategy for achieving this is two-fold. We have created, over the last 10 years, a vibrant, heritage-led visitor destination of international importance to change both the physical and economic landscape of the town. This includes Auckland Castle, grounds and parkland; Auckland Tower visitor centre, the Mining Art Gallery, the Spanish Gallery and Weardale Railway, which runs from the heart of Bishop Auckland up into the rural communities of Weardale. A Faith Museum, exploring the impact of faith on the British Isles over the last 5,000 years, is currently also in development within the Castle complex, together with a range of hotels, retail and food and beverage outlets.
Any new tourist destination should be rooted in its community – making sure it’s inclusive and any benefits are accessible to local people. So, running alongside our venues is a consolidated programme of engagement projects, designed to raise aspiration and make sure that local people can access the opportunities on offer.
By 2029, we hope to have over 1.5 million visitors per year across seven sites, making available 6,000 training opportunities, over 500 volunteering positions, 550 new jobs and 60 new apprenticeships. This work will bring an estimated £240m per annum to the visitor economy.
There are challenges. The impact of Coronavirus has been severe on The Auckland Project, just as it has on every arts, heritage and culture attraction. Just three months after opening Auckland Castle after a six-year conservation programme, we closed our doors for the first lockdown.
While our attractions closed, we repurposed the Castle’s Walled Garden, growing vegetables and producing over 20,000 meals for vulnerable residents and distributing over 1,000 emergency food parcels. Working with a team of 60 volunteers across 10 community hubs, our food programme is now in its third year, continually changing to adapt to the emerging needs of local people.
We work in local community centres, and have turned No.42, a large shop front in Bishop Auckland’s Market Place, into a dedicated community hub, building up from the lifeline it gave people throughout the pandemic where we enabled crisis support groups to keep working with some of Bishop’s most vulnerable throughout lockdowns. This work is essential to our regenerative mission, as we make proactive efforts to provide strategic support using our resource and energy where we can make the most difference.
The work we do with our community ultimately hopes to prepare everyone for the brighter future of opportunity we believe is coming. Since 2013, we have invested time in getting to know our community and have worked with people of all ages and backgrounds. It is important to us that our local people share in the enrichment that The Auckland Project will bring to Bishop Auckland. We connect our communities to our sites through bespoke projects and programmes that raise aspirations and build pride. We firmly believe that arts and culture are a transformative vehicle for change – that it has the power to enrich lives; to inspire, to motivate, to change. We’ve seen it happen many times.
We have seen young people from the travelling community engage across an 18-month project to write their own tours of the Castle and run them for public audiences.
We have used historical portraiture as a platform to discuss mental health with young adults from the Princes Trust; we have given the Castle over to unemployment support groups to run their own events for their families and build their CV’s. Our Art in Focus project takes a piece of art and uses it as a vehicle for social action. One particular version of this engaged local youth groups (none of whom had ever entered a cultural venue before) with the National Gallery’s Masterpiece, “the Triumph of Pan,” by Poussin, as a mechanism to explore and deconstruct identity and what it means to be true to oneself. Through this, the artwork became a spring board of discussion, expression and exploration as they challenged their own thoughts resulting in a creative exhibition that stood proud in Auckland Tower before going on a local tour.
Art needn’t only hang on walls – it can and should be used to instigate, to challenge, to ignite unknown passions. Such vibrant experiences result in change and whether momentary or lasting, can light an inner spark that shows that there is something more. Indeed, in Bishop Auckland there is so much more for people to experience and at The Auckland Project, we endeavour to share, spread and celebrate it all with our local community.
Auckland Castle has a glorious past, and that incredible heritage is reflected across our venues and within our work. Our work today is focussed on ensuring that the future of Bishop Auckland is even more incredible than its past – not just through our venues, but through everything we do.
To find out more click here to visit The Auckland Project website.