A grant of £500,000 has been secured to help turn a former museum building into a new cultural venue.

Durham County Council has won funding to support its plans to reopen the Durham Light Infantry site at Aykley Heads in Durham City.

The authority said the venue will feature a dedicated and ‘beautifully designed’ gallery displaying objects from the DLI collection.

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “We’re delighted to have been awarded this funding by Arts Council England.

“It will help us to fulfill our ambition to create a world-class cultural venue capable of hosting internationally significant exhibitions; a place where residents and visitors can witness creativity, innovation and heritage working together, and feel inspired to create and discover more.”

By showcasing rarely seen pieces, the council hopes to bring an important part of County Durham’s identity and pride to life and to attract new audiences.

The venue will host high-quality exhibitions by local, national and international creatives and designers, with inspiring programmes and activities that encourage people to explore their own creativity and heritage.

County Durham’s special connection to light art will also be nurtured.

With space for up to three temporary exhibitions, a learning and engagement studio, meeting rooms, and internal and external places for people to get together to create, socialise, eat and drink, the hope is it will become a cultural hub for residents and visitors alike.

The Arts Council England funding will support the refurbishment, expansion and fit out of the gallery spaces, as well as the creation of the engagement studio, café and retail area.

It will also help with the development of a digital offer that will ensure the venue will support new and exciting ways to engage in culture and heritage. 

Expected to attract thousands of visitors a year from across the UK and overseas, the venue is being designed to enhance County Durham’s reputation as the Culture County and a year-round visitor destination.

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Cllr Scott said: “In recent years, County Durham has developed a reputation as the Culture County in recognition of our rich heritage, creative zeal and forward-thinking approach to investing in culture.

“We celebrate our past, but are constantly looking to the future, both in terms of nurturing talent and seizing opportunities to inform and inspire.”

Planning permission for the venue was granted last year, and preparatory works are now underway on site.

Once complete, the reimagined attraction will be a sister venue to The Story, which is due to open on Friday June 14.

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The two venues will work together and with attractions across County Durham to support the development of the area’s local, regional and national visitor offer, ensuring creativity, innovation and heritage are celebrated and opportunities are seized.

Lord Stephen Parkinson of Whitley Bay, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Libraries, said: “Cultural venues enrich our lives, and it’s vital that their infrastructure matches the excellence of the creative work that goes on inside them. 

“Our funding is helping both to create new venues and to adapt existing ones to make them more accessible, helping to deliver the Government’s plan to make sure that everyone, no matter where they live or what their background, has access to excellent, life-changing cultural opportunities.”