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Opera star returns home to open music centre

ByPeter Barron

Oct 6, 2019 #education

ONE of the world’s leading opera singers has opened a new centre for music education at an historic North-East venue.

Sir Thomas Allen, who hails from Seaham, was back in County Durham to open St Hilda’s at Ushaw, near Durham.

The dedicated space, which will be used for music tuition as well as a spiritual retreat, is located in a former infirmary.

It has been named after Hilda of Whitby, one of the patron saints of culture and learning, and represents a £70,000 investment.

Sir Thomas, regarded as one of the finest baritones of his generation, said: “What’s happened today is really very exciting. The idea that it’s going to involve a lot of young people in this area, making music and being involved with music, I think is the best thing in the world.

“Who knows, it might lead to a North East Academy of Music and, if it does, why not base it here? There’s a lot of talent in the area, and I think it should be utilised and recognised.

“Being asked to open St Hilda’s took me by surprise, but I’m thrilled to have done so. This aspect of music has been my life, and it’s just wonderful to be able to make a contribution and return something.”

Sir Thomas gave a celebration performance, accompanied on the piano by Alex Chisholm-Loxley.

Durham Music Service Training Choir also sang, and visitors were then invited to explore the building, including the reproduction of a period classroom.

Ushaw operated as a boarding school, and prepared young men for the priesthood, for almost 200 years until the estate closed in 2011. However, it has now been reborn as an events and performance venue, business hub, and emerging tourist attraction.

Sir Thomas said he had been “knocked out” during a visit for a Christmas service when Ushaw first re-opened its doors.

“The concern at the time was what on earth is the future for Ushaw, how can it possibly be rescued?  It’s such a big project, there are so many buildings in various states of repair, and it seemed kind of a forlorn hope that it might have a future.”

He unveiled a commemorative plaque to officially open the building before Ushaw President, Monsignor John Marsland, rededicated St Mary’s Chapel.

The opening coincided with the birthday of Ushaw’s former development director, Roger Kelly, who died earlier this year.

Ushaw’s commercial director Jonathan Ward said: “We owe much to Roger Kelly, who was instrumental in raising the money for this project. It is to his initiative, imagination, and vision that this centre owes its existence.”

Mr Ward added: “This transformation is nothing short of a miracle and Sir Thomas’s presence is the icing on the cake.”

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