A DURHAM graduate who became a successful solicitor has told how a desire to help students relax and be creative prompted him to give nearly £40,000 to support art at his old university.

Richard Roberts studied law and politics at Durham University in the early 1980s, before qualifying as a solicitor and going on to enjoy a successful career focusing on trusts, wills and estate planning.

He is now director and co-owner of Gedye and Sons, which is based in Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria, and at the Old Bailey in London.

Last year, he funded the prizes for the inaugural Durham University Student Art Prize and has now committed to sponsoring it for the next 12 years too.

Mr Roberts, who lives in Durham, said: “Although I grew up in a house with virtually nothing on the walls, I have always had a strong desire to acquire original works of art depicting everything from views from familiar fells through memory jogging scenes to the contemplative or the surreal.

“Art provides a solace, and an escape, a point at which to start creatively imagining, a memory trigger, it can provide humour or sadness.

“I want to encourage students to relax by being creative or to enjoy the creative product of fellow students, to stop and take time out to creatively imagine, to allow one’s thoughts to wander and create.

“In setting up the Student Art Prize I wanted to create something commensurate with the university’s world standing, hence prizes totalling £3,000, and after last year’s success I am very pleased to sponsor it for the next 12 years.”

Last year’s Student Art Prize had the theme Diversity and was won by Alice Stubbings, a law undergraduate at St Mary’s College and fromm Malton, North Yorkshire, for her painting Hands of Acceptance.

Some of the entries then formed part of an Art Hunt that the university staged at Durham’s Riverwalk shopping complex during the summer.

This year’s Student Art Prize was launched at a Zoom event and has the theme Heroism.

Students are invited to interpret the theme however they choose and submit works in any form of art, including photography, film and sculpture.

The deadline for submissions is in February, shortlisting will take place in March and the winner will be announced in June.

Before then, the university will run an Art School, with creative workshops. A street gallery and an outdoor exhibition will also be staged, to allow members of the public to enjoy the entries. More details will be announced in due course.

The winning entry will receive £1,500 and their piece will be added to the university’s art collection. There are also prizes of £1,000 for second, £500 for third, £100 each for two highly commended entries and £250 for a People’s Vote winner.

Liz Waller, director of library and collections at Durham University, said: “Although we don’t teach art at Durham, almost all of our colleges have their own art groups or societies, where students can take part in workshops, meet artists and hone their talents.

“We also have an extensive art collection and this informs our teaching and research, as well as being on show around the university and local area for us all to enjoy.

“We launched the Student Art Prize to offer some of the wonderfully talented student artists we have at Durham University further opportunities to develop their skills and have their work publicly exhibited and appreciated."

“The inaugural Prize was a great success and we are incredibly grateful to Richard for his exceptional support, enabling us to continue the Prize for years to come.

“We look forward to students participating in the Art School, seeing what creative ideas they come up with and sharing these with the local community in the months ahead.”

Shortlisted entries from the 2019/20 Student Art Prize are currently being displayed outside the University’s Bill Bryson Library.

For more information visit: durham.ac.uk/art.collection/artprize.