THE outgoing boss of a theatre has urged a council to use the growing popularity of culture and theatre to "bring new life into the town centre" as the curtain falls on her 35-year career.

Lynda Winstanley, who this week steps down as director of Darlington Hippodrome, also claims the theatre would not be here today if it wasn't for the successful £13.7m restoration, and the lessons learnt from the "difficult period" of austerity which included the closure of Darlington Arts Centre.

The Northern Echo:

Heather Tarran-Jones will take over from Ms Winstanley as theatre director following a handover period of several months.

Speaking to The Northern Echo, Ms Winstanley said: "I have mixed emotions – predominantly feeling sad and in a bit of denial actually, but it is not really goodbye because I think I will always be in the audience – it is part of the fabric of all of our lives in Darlington.

"I’m excited because the time is right to hand over and I feel I have achieved a tremendous amount particularly over the last few years and it’s hard to know where you can go after that because it has been so fantastic."

Speaking about the restoration, which saw Civic theatre become the Hippodrome in 2017, she said: "I think we are seeing a change in the way culture is shaping our town centre – there’s got to be a new life to our town centres beyond just the retail, and theatre events and public art are a greatly important part of keeping our town vibrant.

"Without that difficult period of austerity, I don’t think we’d have the theatre today. It needed this restoration because although it was successful and we loved it and it had some great shows, it has become so much more and it is a much vastly improved space for accessibility now which, with an Edwardian theatre, it was very difficult to alter unless you were doing such a large scale alteration."

Ms Tarran-Jones said: "It’s not easy to take over from someone who has done such a fantastic job for more than 35 years no matter how experienced they are, but I have been fortunate to work with Lynda for the last five years now, so I’m really going to take as much experience from her as I can.

"I’ve been here for a while and been part of the vision for the Hippodrome and been in conversations about what we need to become and how to provide a better theatre experience.

"What I would like to do is keep that programme as varied as Lynda has, but to take a little risk here and there and try something new.

"We’ve got some big names coming in the autumn season like Frank Skinner and Jason Manford, so I'd like to try and continue to have some real pull out shows which bring something a little bit different to the theatre."

Mike Crawshaw, head of culture and heritage for Darlington Borough Council, said: "Lynda has been a formidable force for the arts in Darlington for almost four decades, leading the theatre to a secure future and into a position from where it goes from strength to strength.

"She has a wealth of experience and, while we will miss her presence immeasurably, I can't think of a better person to take over than Heather who has been such a key part of the team.

"Lynda started working here as an usherette and now she ushers in a bright new future. I wish her all the best in her retirement and look forward to working with Heather to see the theatre continue to flourish and prosper.’