LIGHT festival Lumiere is returning this autumn, inviting local and international artists to create works that reimagine familiar buildings and public spaces in Durham.

The festival is commissioned by Durham County Council and supported by Arts Council England and a host of other funders and supporters.

This month, we explore word-based light art with poet, Hannah Jane Walker.

Hannah worked with women at HMP Low Newton and fabricator Neon Workshops to produce The Next Page, which was unveiled at Lumiere 2019 and is now a permanent artwork in Durham.

She said: “I have worked in prisons previously, running writing workshops for wellbeing. This project was different because as a group, we knew we were working towards the goal of creating a piece of light art.

"When we began, I was aware of the challenge that, although the piece was going to be in Durham City centre and the group were residents of the county, they may not have had a relationship with the area before being in prison. I felt the artwork should explore place and belonging, but that was a contradiction for these women.

"There are a lot of shifting dynamics in a group from prison. In the workshops they had the opportunity to get to know each other and build trust, with each other and with me. A lot of the first session was exploring the question, ‘who are you?’, telling each other the story of ourselves beyond the confidential personal information of why the participants were in prison.

"They were a very highly skilled group; one person had even done a PhD in Creative Writing whilst in prison. I was careful early on to say that we weren’t talking about poetry that exists in a book, but about words that live with you in a different way.

"At one point, somebody began reciting poems their mother had spoken to them, which made us think about phrases that are so deep in your memory that they become almost universal, such as, ‘what’s for you won’t go by you’ and, ‘the people you meet on the way up are the people you meet on the way down.’ The idea of wisdom and what you want to offer another person became a hook for the project.

"We ended up with a long list of phrases, which we called ‘Offerings to Others’. We wanted the artwork to be as open and powerful as possible and to include everybody. The phrase the group loved the most was, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, because they knew the piece was going to appear on the library. But I felt this phrase was overused and knew we could do more.

"We then started a series of creative writing exercises using this phrase as a prompt to generate new material. Somebody came up with, ‘only you can write the next page’, and this resonated with the group because it was a thought that a lot of the group members had had about their own lives. They also felt it could mean different things to everyone: it could be about the environment, or ending a bad relationship.

"I was really surprised at the impact of ‘The Next Page’ when I saw the finished piece at Lumiere. I was quite emotional, and stood there for a long time in the rain. I was amazed at how joyful it is to see something in the street that can belong to everybody. This is a problem in literature. Even though barriers have been broken down by performance poets and other forms of writing, a lot of people still think that literature is not for them." I want to work in areas that help break these barriers down.

"Learning and participation work at its best can act as a kind of rebellion against the social structures that keep people in the boxes of their own lives and communities and prevent them from exploring outside of this. Often with arts organisations there is a big deadline that they have to hit to produce a project, but Learning and Participation work has a different rhythm. These two aspects support and nourish each other.

"It is poignant that the women involved in the project won’t see their artwork in public. However, the group’s response was wise: they thought of this as a rare opportunity to say something and be heard." There is a dissonance between what is happening in the world and the prison community. Any opportunity to bridge this gap felt like a welcome one. They want people to know that they are here, part of the community. They all knew what Lumiere was and were just happy to be connected and included.

As a result of this project, I have gone on to produce other text light art works for public spaces. I’m interested in the ability of public art to change a place from the mundane to bring new sense of community, out of buildings and onto the streets. It makes the invisible, visible. Hannah is currently working on a book about sensitivity.

Are there particular phrases that you remember your grandparents using? Are there any special sayings which are unique to your local area? Or do you have any pearls of wisdom of your own to share?

The pen is mightier than the sword Don’t count your chickens before they hatch Absence makes the heart grow fonder Inspired by the Durham Proverbs, an ancient manuscript of 46 traditional mediaeval sayings housed at Durham Cathedral, we’re asking people living in or originally from County Durham to share their own local expressions and pithy takes on life to form the basis for a new artwork at the next edition of Lumiere.

Submissions must be less than 10 words. Submit your entry via email before Saturday 31st July 2021: Please note that we can’t guarantee that all entries will be included in the final artwork.

Councillor Amanda Hopgood said: “Lumiere brings great pride to County Durham. With its blend of light and art, visitors flock to Durham City to wonder at the fantastic installations and explore our vibrant city. Lumiere is a truly inspiring festival that brings people together.

I have been particularly impressed by The Next Page, which had a real impact in 2019. Hannah Jane Walker and the women at HMP Low Newton created an installation for people to enjoy knowing they would not be able to see it for themselves and shared a powerful message.

This year’s festival is particularly significant following the challenges we have all faced due to the pandemic as we face our new normal. We have seen our communities rally to help each other in the last year, and Lumiere is about communities coming together to be inspired and to celebrate.

As the UK’s largest and most successful light festival, we expect Lumiere to play a crucial part in our region’s recovery with all the social and economic benefits it brings. Lumiere not only showcases the creative work of artists but offers a promise of brighter times ahead. We hope this year’s festival will lift people’s spirits and spread the message of inclusivity and community.

Alison Maynard, Deputy Principal at New College Durham: “We’re very proud to sponsor the Lumiere Programme Launch event. It’s always a real highlight for us and our students who have the fantastic opportunity of being involved.

Over the years many of our students have been involved in Lumiere. Our Travel and Tourism students get fantastic live event experience and they even get access to a masterclass on organising an event. Catering students create and serve canapés, whilst our Hospitality students serve drinks and take part in a gin cocktail masterclass. We also have media students photographing the event and our music students performing.

The opportunity to get involved and gain experience at such a high-profile event is invaluable for our students.

We’re excited to see how Lumiere 2021 will light up our beautiful city once again.”

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also follow our dedicated County Durham Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here.

For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on or contact 01325 505054