One of the region’s most historic buildings will welcome a royal visitor today (Wednesday March 2, 2016).
Following a £3.2m regeneration project, which saw The Witham in Barnard Castle restored, refurbished and extended to incorporate the library and customer access point, HRH The Duke of Gloucester KG GCVO, a former architect, will tour the popular arts, business and community venue.
The visit follows an expression of interest from His Royal Highness to tour the collection of Grade II listed buildings which date back to 1846, during his visit to the county. The award winning renovation project was completed in October 2013 and was delivered by Barnard Castle Vision, Durham County Council and The Witham Trustees. It resulted in a mixed use community facility offering a café, arts and exhibition areas, performance and events facilities, as well as small business units and a shop featuring local crafts. The original features and historic attributes of the building have been carefully combined with modern additions. Supported by a raft of volunteers and true to its public service roots, The Witham is one of the most important historical assets in the county and beyond.
During his visit His Royal Highness will meet the architects and project team responsible for successfully integrating the historic parts of the building with modern structures and will be shown a display of before and after images.
He will also meet a number of the trustees, staff, volunteers, groups, organisations and partners involved in the management and events programme at the hall.
Amongst those to be introduced is 23 year old Maddy Sutton. Maddy is the marketing and administration intern at The Witham. A keen busker with a first class degree in music from the University of Huddersfield, Maddy was awarded the undergraduate piano prize having majored in performance studies and musical theatre.
Maddy will perform for The Duke in the County Room, scene of many historic public announcements since the building was first opened as Testimonial Hall in 1846.
Also set to meet the royal guest is Mickleton ceramic artist, Judy Caplin. Judy was commissioned to design a piece of public art, which hangs in pride of place above the café.
Inspired by one of Teesdale’s best-known historical figures, Henry Witham and specifically his interest in botany, the eye-catching installation is entitled Hesperides. It consists of more than 650 individually produced porcelain tiles featuring fossilised plant materials which Judy collected locally.
His Royal Highness will be presented with a specially produced commemorative tile made by the artist at the end of his tour.
As well as meeting some of the many volunteers involved in running the box office and supporting the wide range of events, theatre, cinema and other performances at the hall, The Duke will enjoy some shadow theatre staged by local children from the
Kando Youth Theatre Company. The group runs weekly drama sessions in the auditorium and will perform a powerful war shadow theatre workshop with historical costumes and imagery, before presenting their visitor with a gift.
Katie Taylor, The Witham CEO, said: “It’s delightful to welcome His Royal Highness to The Witham, our vibrant arts centre – as an exciting venue hub for theatre, music, comedy, business arts and film, we appreciate the recognition that this visit bestows. To have the Friends and Volunteers of The Witham, as well as our hard-working staff, recognised on the day means a huge amount. Come and visit this gem in Barnard Castle high street”
Cllr Neil Foster, Cabinet member for culture and regeneration at Durham County Council, said: “Supporting the refurbishment of this fantastic community venue is something we are immensely proud of. It is a wonderful example of how history, art, architecture and modern ways of living can combine to truly service local needs on so many levels. I am delighted HRH The Duke of Gloucester is honouring us by coming to see what we have done together. I am sure as an architect he will find his tour particularly rewarding.”
Before leaving The Duke will unveil a commemorative plaque and sign the visitor’s book.