In spring of 2022, County Durham made history when it was announced as the first ever county to make the shortlist to be UK City of Culture.

Two years on from reaching the final four in the prestigious national competition, although Durham narrowly missed out on the City of Culture title, it has most definitely cemented its position as the ‘culture county.’

Here’s four reasons why:

1. A fun-packed, diverse and inclusive festival and events line-up.

Durham County Council has just held its annual food festival in Bishop Auckland and this summer will be hosting another at Seaham. Sandwiched between those will be Durham Brass music festival and Durham City Run Festival, while the coming months will also see the journey through time that is the Kynren shows return to Bishop Auckland, Durham Fringe Festival and the latest hosting of Durham Miners’ Gala, a mainstay in the region’s events calendar. Arguably the jewel in the festival and events crown is Lumiere, the UKs light art biennial which illuminated Durham and also Bishop Auckland last winter. And next year, the 200th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway – along which the first ever locomotive powered passenger journey set off from Shildon - will be celebrated with a packed programme of events and activities.

The Northern Echo: Bishop Auckland Food Festival is a mainstay of Durham County Council’s festival and events line-upBishop Auckland Food Festival is a mainstay of Durham County Council’s festival and events line-up (Image: Durham County Council)
2. World class attractions that offer great days out.

County Durham boasts a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Durham Cathedral and Castle, as well as the world-famous Beamish Museum. Beamish is set to add a 1950s cinema and toy shop to its 1950s Town later this year, along with Georgian-themed self-catering accommodation, enabling visitors to stay overnight at the museum for the first time. County Durham is also home to The Bowes Museum, home to the iconic Silver Swan which is wowing audiences once again following a four-year restoration project, and Locomotion, a rail museum which will soon feature Europe’s largest under cover collection of historic rail vehicles and which will be a key venue during the aforementioned Stockton and Darlington Railway bicentenary celebrations.

The county’s tourism offer has recently been bolstered by the Faith Museum in Bishop Auckland, part of The Auckland Project, and will soon be strengthened further by The Story, a new history centre and registration service that opens in Durham City this June, and the opening of The Rising, an ambitious development at Raby Castle which will deliver heritage buildings, new constructions and a visionary walled garden. There’s more to come with three redeveloped attractions set to reopen in the Durham Light Infantry Museum and Art Gallery - complete with exhibition centre, gallery and restaurant, Redhills Durham Miners Hall and Killhope Lead Mining Museum.

The Northern Echo: Raby Castle is one of County Durham’s world-class visitor attractionsRaby Castle is one of County Durham’s world-class visitor attractions (Image: Durham County Council)
3. Art is for all.

Durham County Council has a varied community arts programme which aims to provide every person living in County Durham with the opportunity to participate in the arts. The local authority developed the concept of Place Labs, a network of community-based cultural hubs will be established where residents can develop their own creative projects and share ideas. Pilots have been established in Peterlee, Weardale and Durham City and will be rolled out countywide.

The Northern Echo: Durham County Council’s Place Labs are making art available to allDurham County Council’s Place Labs are making art available to all (Image: Carl Joyce)
4. International sport on the doorstep.

County Durham will once again play host to international cricket later this year when England men entertain fierce rivals Australia in a one day international at Chester-le-Street’s Riverside Stadium. England women will also take on New Zealand in a one-day game at Riverside – a further boost to the women’s game locally following the recent announcement that Durham has been awarded a tier one professional women’s team.

The Northern Echo: International cricket at Durham Cricket Club’s Riverside StadiumInternational cricket at Durham Cricket Club’s Riverside Stadium (Image: Durham County Council)
Why is this all so important?

A diverse cultural programme of festivals, events and sport combined with top class attractions not only enhances the lives of residents, but also creates a strong tourism offer, attracting visitors from across the UK and beyond, who will spend money in local businesses - generating economic growth and supporting jobs. In County Durham’s case this has certainly been true with tourism alone being worth more than £1billion to the local economy in 2022. And you simply can’t put a value on how culture makes people feel and the sense of pride it can foster in where they live.

The importance of culture to both the economy and people’s wellbeing is certainly not lost on Durham County Council, which spearheaded the City of Culture bid and which either manages, organises or funds some of the attractions, festivals, events and activities mentioned above.

On the back of the City of Culture bid, the council has sought to cement County Durham’s position as the ‘culture county’ and to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to culture-led regeneration.

This has included delivering key projects within the City of Culture bid – like the Place Labs; progressing major capital projects including The Story and DLI Museum and Art Gallery; and raising the county's profile as a fantastic place to live, work, visit and invest.

The local authority has also sought to invest to enhance the county’s cultural offer, with £2m from its own resources and a £1.25million Place Partnership award from Arts Council England through the National Lottery going towards the organisation of some of the exciting festivals, events and activities mentioned above.

With all this and more going on, it’s hard to argue with that ‘culture county’ claim. Why not head for County Durham and see for yourself?