An ambition to grow and invest in culture throughout County Durham has been outlined, after a campaign to become the UK cultural capital. 

County Durham’s bid for the UK City of Culture 2025 crown made the final four during the 2022 contest, but missed out to Bradford. Yet officials hope to build on the momentum of the contest by continuing to grow the area’s cultural offering. 

A £125,000 grant was provided by the government and is being used alongside a £2 million cultural reserve, which has been established by Durham County Council and partners. 

Activities outlined in the initial bid took place over the past year to develop key project ideas. A council report states: “The bid process built significant momentum and support for culture and creativity in the county, recognising it as a source of intense local pride, a driver for economic growth and community development as well as a means to promote the county nationally and internationally.”

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Now, a ‘Culture County’ programme has been proposed to run from 2024-2026 and will offer a combination of extraordinary events, community engagement and education and skills development. 

Ideas from the initial City of Culture bid which will be progressed include: 

Place Labs: commission feasibility for a network of neighbourhood or high street spaces for communities to lead place-shaping activity using culture and creativity as tools, developing people, place and the local cultural and creative infrastructure as a result. 

Community Engagement: build on and extend the Culture Club, a group of community cultural champions and local advocates which developed as a result of the bid. 

“While the culture county programme is of a different scale to the city of culture, there is good evidence from the ongoing evaluation of our festivals that this programme will bring additional economic benefit to the county,” the report added. 

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Cllr Elizabeth Scott, cabinet member for economy, said large scale events continue to benefit the local visitor economy and recently hit the £1 billion landmark. She added: “This use of reserves shows our partners and potential co-funders that County Durham is seriously committed to culture and the role that it plays in our economy and communities.”

And council leader cllr Amanda Hopgood said culture is at the heart of the authority’s ethos. “Our bid for the city of culture 2025 crown showed our ambition for County Durham and how this area can only improve the quality of life for residents, but also how it would have a significant positive impact on our economy,” she said. 

“If we don’t promote and spread the message of what we can offer, then no one else will. For too long, we’ve let culture-led regeneration take a back seat and that stops now.”