A REGIONAL music and arts hub is celebrating after being awarded a grant to upgrade its facilities.

The Forum Music Centre, in Darlington, has been chosen to receive a £40,000 grant by Arts Council England to modernise audio and visual equipment, to better meet the needs of all its patrons.

Managing director Allison McKay said: “We’re overjoyed to be selected from among many deserving applicants. This grant will help make The Forum even more inclusive, and enhance music experiences for our users, audiences, and artists.”

The grant will be used to upgrade multiple systems and facilities

Under the conditions of the grant, all upgrades must improve The Forum’s accessibility for users with specific needs. The venue’s directors intend to install ramps to make both the stage and sound booth accessible to wheelchair users, and install a hearing loop to enhance the experience for anyone using a hearing aid.

There are also plans to create a live audio and visual stream from the stage into the bar area, allowing visitors with specific needs – such as sensory issues or agoraphobia – to enjoy live performances in a comfortable, calmer area where sound levels are more suitable for them.

Staff hope the improved equipment will also greatly benefit The Forum’s educational programmes by improving the learning experience for people of all ages interested in developing their performance and technical skills.

Other upgrades planned include lighting improvements, a new speaker system, additional microphones, stage extensions, a new sound desk, and remote-operation for lights and sound.

Allison added: “Music is for everyone, and that vision has always been at the heart of what The Forum is. We want everybody to be able to come and enjoy everything the venue offers, regardless of what personal challenges they contend with.

“We’re very grateful to Arts Council England, and it’s very gratifying that The Forum’s contribution to the community has been recognised in this way. It comes at a very exciting time, as we look to the future of the venue.

“These systems are just one area we are hoping to invest in over the coming months. Our other big priority is replacing the roof, which is more than 100 years old.

“The conditions of this grant mean it can’t be spent on building work, but we look forward to making a big announcement about that in the future!”