4 August 2023 – Important update from Culture Durham!

4 August 2023
Tony Harrington

Dear friends,

I hope you are having a good summer despite the dodgy weather! Thankfully, as always, we have plenty of cultural activity to enjoy in our wonderful county regardless.

Culture Durham has been very busy since the review carried out earlier in the year. Thank you to everybody who contributed either as an interviewee, attending a focus group or completing a questionnaire. We were really heartened by the high levels of interest and engagement in the process. Our next step was to start implementing the recommendations from the review which included focusing our purpose – not trying to do everything! – and introducing a new streamlined and transparent governance structure, which we agreed should be done in two phases to ensure it is robust and we get it right.

Top priorities for cultural sector in County Durham

The consultation process revealed that the top priorities for the cultural sector in County Durham are:

1. Boosting the skills, knowledge and development pathways for the cultural sector workforce.
2. Increasing the visibility and profile of the sector’s offer and impact, particularly in relation to smaller and grassroots organisations with less visibility.

These will be our focus for at least the next three years and we will be setting up working groups of people from the county who are knowledgeable about these areas to take them forward. We will be in touch to let you know how to get involved.

Governance changes

We have disbanded the original partnership board and created a new, smaller advisory group, nominated from the board, which will operate for a year to establish the working groups and put in place a process to recruit a new partnership board by June 2024. Watch this space!

The advisory group members include: Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council; Professor Janet Stewart, Durham University; Jess Hunt, East Durham Creates; Sarah Price, Locomotion; Jill Cole, Northern Heartlands; Julie Biddlecombe-Brown, Raby Castle; Hannah Fox, The Bowes Museum; and Martin Wilson MBE, TIN Arts. Nicholas Baumfield from Arts Council England is an observer. Caroline Murphy and Jane Hedges are providing support to the Partnership during this interim year and Jane continues to be your contact point.

I’d like to thank the other members of the partnership who have been so generous in giving their time, with a special thank you to Jane Hedges for her fantastic support to me and the partnership over the last few years.

Elizabeth and Jill were unanimously elected as co-chairs of the advisory group at its first meeting in June. By opting for co-chairs the advisory group is signalling a new and fresh approach right from the start.

And it’s goodbye from me!

And this is where I sign off. Having chaired the partnership board since 2019, kicked off the review before the pandemic, like everybody else, steered through uncharted territory of the pandemic, been closely involved in the bid for UK City of Culture 2025 and then re-started and completed the review, it feels like the right time to step down. I will still be closely involved in partnership working in the cultural life of County Durham, focusing particularly on children and young people.

I want to offer Elizabeth, Jill and the rest of the advisory group my support and very best wishes with the task in hand. They form a really strong team to develop Culture Durham and will do a great job.

You will be hearing from the new co-chairs next week about the exciting developments which have grown from the City of Culture bid. Keep an eye out for the next newsletter.

Hope to see you very soon!

All the best,


Tony Harrington
Outgoing chair, Culture Durham