THE bicentenary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway is at the centre of Durham’s bid to become the City of Culture in 2025.

The county will learn on Thursday whether it is one of the 20 bidders which will go onto a six-strong shortlist.

The Northern Echo: Alison Clark, the head of culture, sport and tourism at Durham County Council

Alison Clark, the head of culture, sport and tourism at Durham County Council

Today is the 196th anniversary of the ground-breaking railway's opening, and Alison Clark, Durham County Council’s head of culture, tourism and sport, has how the bicentenary will feature in the Durham bid.

The bid has three rhyming strands: illuminate, congregate and innovate.

Illuminate aims to build on Lumiere, the age of enlightenment at the cathedral and university, plus the county’s pioneering astronomers – Thomas Wright’s amazing observatory at Westerton, in south Durham, for example.

The Northern Echo: Thomas Wright's observatory in Westerton, south Durham

Thomas Wright's observatory in Westerton, south Durham

Congregate aims to tap into the community nature of the mining communities, showcasing the Redhills pitman’s parliament, plus, of course, it has the obvious religious connotations.

“We see the railway bicentenary under the innovate strand,” said Alison. “It would be the jumping off point to celebrate what happened and to be able to pull out the sense of enterprise, innovation, trying new things, doing something completely different.

“We also understand there is global interest in the railway. Because it is so close to home, we may not realise the importance of it, but it what it started and what came from it were world changing.”

Culture in its widest sense includes sport and well-being, and Alison said that the bid includes working with Stockton and Darlington to bring as much of the trackbed as possible into use for walking and cycling.

“Durham only makes sense as a county,” she said. “It is only place in England where the county town and the county share the same name.

“The city will be the focus, but you can’t tell the story of Durham as a county without talking about the coalfields, the communities, the Pals groups…”

The shortlisted six are due to be announced on the last day of September, and competition is intense, especially as the shortlist will have to include bidders from every part of the UK. Shortlisted bidders will have to present a more in-depth entry by January.

“It will be extremely disappointing if our bid is not successful but such a strong momentum has built up around it, not just in the county but the whole region, that we will be announcing that we plan to forge ahead anyway,” said Alison.