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We are now 14 days into our 30-day Investing in The Witham campaign and we wanted to update you with some facts about how it’s going, and thank the many who have contributed.

So far, 71 people have donated £12,001 counting Gift Aid. A number of people have set up standing orders so that they can make regular donations. In the longer term, this will make a big difference. For example, if we were able to find 100 people to make a regular donation of £10 a month, that would be worth £15,000 a year. This would allow us to programme events for almost a whole month.  If you decide to set up a standing order with your bank, please be clear to tell them when you want it to start.

People have started to add Fundraising Events to our BTDonate web page so if you have had an idea for something you can deliver yourself and which you think would help us to generate additional funds towards the campaign, please consider setting up your own challenge through that site. Fundraising challenges that are already on the site are:

Suzanne Wallace who is looking for sponsorship to run 15km in 2 hours and has already received pledges for £230 of her £500 target.

Madelene Sutton sought to raise £200 of sponsorship for her Lakeland 10 peak challenge and has already reached above her target, but her page is still open. It was an amazing solo walk.

Sarah Gent and her two daughters were targeting £500 for the Creative Chalk Challenge on Saturday 8 September and have already raised £970.

Donations can be made here BTmydonate
Via BACS Barclays Bank Sort Code 20-45-45 Account Number 40524050
By cheque made payable to The Witham Hall Ltd

Thank you again for your support for The Witham
Bob Garton
Chair of Trustees: Witham Hall Ltd.



Jill Cole is Director of Northern Heartlands, the Durham Great Place Scheme, where she manages a small team delivering a programme of arts, heritage and cultural activity across south and west Durham.  Prior to this role, she had a freelance career in the arts, managing her own arts management business as well as delivering community arts activities.  She was the Artistic Director of a very successful youth theatre based in the Witham before its re-development, and most recently worked for Arts Council England as a Relationship Manager for Theatre.   Originally from the southeast, Jill made her home in Teesdale in 1990 and brought up her 2 children here.  She has a long history with the Witham as a user, a committee member (prior to re-development), a tenant (she has twice rented office space in the building) and as an audience member. 

Ruth has been in residence at The Witham this week as one of the nine artists selected for support from the North East Artist Development Network (NEADN) which is designed to support artists and companies at the earliest stages of developing their work, providing an opportunity to work up an idea, with the support of a venue, to the point where it is commission ready so that they are in a position to seek funding or other support to realise the work.

The NEADN is led by a steering group made up of influencers from regional theatres, arts centres and festivals, and is supported by a number of North East venues, including The Witham.

Ruth writes about her experiences at The Witham this week:

To be surrounded by beautiful scenery, historic buildings and lovely people is not a bad way to spend a week. On top of that, to be given space, time, support and encouragement to explore a risky idea, is truly a gift. And I have been the very happy recipient of that gift at The Witham this week.

As part of the NEADN residency programme, managed by Arc in Stockton and bringing a whole range of North East venues together to support artist development, I have been given the opportunity to explore my ideas and to interrogate my practice in the most beautiful of surroundings.

Having made work for a range of companies over the last 10 years and loved and learned from all of that experience, applying for this programme marked a new step for me to develop my own ideas and to interrogate my own practice. I predominantly make work for young audiences and their families and this is where my heart and passion is. I have also always been fascinated with the ways in which older narratives survive, rebirth and become new and resonate with the world today.

I started the week only knowing that the story of Chicken Licken was my starting point. And I then started to ask, What if? What if the audience are involved in a more active way? What if there is genuine collaboration that can happen between performers and audiences? And what if the audience can become authors and owners of their own artwork.

To help me ask some of these questions, I was lucky enough to have local and leading musical magicians Joe Johnston, Calum Howard and Jeremy Bradfield to come and play with me.

Without giving too much away, I am so excited to be developing a piece of work, that sits within a body of work for me, that truly wouldn’t have been possible to embark upon without the generous support of NEADN and The Witham and everyone who works there. I have been properly looked after; given advice, been served the best coffee I have tasted in a long time, access to printing, joined in wiggling and wobbling with a gang of very brilliant babies, been introduced to family chickens and been made to feel more than welcome by everyone I have met.

I have also been given the space and time to breathe, to reflect and to be ambitious, surrounded by beautiful scenery, historic buildings and lovely people.

Thanks for having me, The Witham!

Thanks for coming, Ruth! We have found it hugely rewarding to see your work develop in such an exciting, creative way over the week. We will look forward to welcoming you here again and seeing what happens to Chicken Licken.   Read more about Ruth Mary Johnson here and click here to discover what is on at The Witham for families.

Sarah Gent, Marketing Manager explains why The Witham team are celebrating...

We are delighted with this front page splash in the Darlington and Stockton Times today (read the article here) and the one in the Teesdale Mercury this week too (link to come shortly!

The Witham team are working hard not only to deliver excellent events and happenings, continue to improve our lovely cafe, entice people into the shop and the gallery but also work to raise awareness and ultimately funds for this small arts centre on Barnard Castle high street. This will enable us to do more and more with our local community and with the many visitors who come to events and explore our wonderful area.

As a registered charity, we have exciting plans to fundraise to support our work, building on the strong reputation we have established over the last four years. We've delivered so much of excellent quality, engaged with lots of exciting partners and increased footfall and ticket sales significantly since the refurb was complete in 2013.

And we plan to continue this growth with your help and a strong strategic approach led by the board of trustees and staff team.

So watch this space for future activities and thank you all for your ongoing support! 

The crowd really took Adrian to their hearts, when midway through his second set he called Andy and Moray on stage to perform a song he’d written called ‘Hold Your Light High’.

The show featured at the Witham on Saturday 16th September was headlined by Adrian Nation with special guests, Andy Yeadon and Moray Nellis. The show was the first promotion, (I hope of many) at the venue by Chilli Enterprises. The Witham is an ideal venue for the fare served up on the night. It’s cosy, intimate and friendly. As you’d expect from a recently refurbished building, the facilities are very good. I particularly liked being able to sit in the warm cafe area, enjoying a coffee, waiting for the doors to open, rather than being made to queue in the cold outside.

The show was compered by Mr Chilli Enterprises himself - Dave Palmer, who welcomed everyone and brought to the stage the special guests, the aforementioned Andy Yeadon and Moray Nellis. Most people reading this will know of Andy and his music, as in respect of the local music scene, he’s a bit of a Barney legend in his own lifetime. Performing with Andy was Moray Nellis, the daughter of Jimmy Nellis, a music legend of yesteryear in the Sunderland area. So, excellent credentials, but would it work?! It certainly did! I was fortunate to have a look at the set list before the show started and was pleased to see it crammed with great, self-penned songs of Andy’s that I’m familiar with. Songs such as ‘Love takes you everywhere’, ‘Right all along’, Standing here’ etc. 

The only slight reservation I had, was would the songs survive the transition from being played in a standard electric rock group format, to that of a single guitar accompaniment? I needn’t have worried. The songs were delivered in such a way that nothing was lost. Having only heard Andy playing electric guitar, his acoustic guitar playing was a revelation to me. I would have liked to have heard more of Moray taking a lead vocal or two, but that’s a minor carp.                                                                                                                                          
Next on, came top of the bill, Adrian Nation. Other than knowing of his reputation as being an excellent singer / songwriter and having immense prowess as a guitar player, Adrian and his music was fairly new to me. However, as soon as he started playing the intro of his first song, ‘The Coming of The Day’, I knew we were in for something special. He sounded like a one man band – there was bass, percussion and amazing finger- picking guitar, topped off by a good, strong singing voice, all in the mix. Armed with an array of five different guitars and exhibiting a mastery of effects, he captivated the appreciative crowd. As if that wasn’t enough, he proved to be an interesting raconteur. During the announcement of what he was going to sing next, he made a point of getting across to the audience, how his songs had came into being and which characters and places had inspired him to write that particular song, Some of the songs were about members of his family and friends, others such as ‘Dying of Democracy’ (from his forthcoming album Anarchy and Love) were more focused upon political issues. A lot of his songs, whether personal or political were powerful statements - some wistful, some strong and energetic. I would think that just as with good poetry, to fully realise the full impact of the message / story of Adrian’s songs, more than one ‘play’ is necessary. I’m sure that those people in the audience who took home with them a CD of Adrian’s work, will, in the days ahead, appreciate his work even more.                                                            

The crowd really took him to their hearts, when midway through his second spot he called Andy and Moray to join him on stage to perform a song he’d written called ‘Hold Your Light High’.
Adrian concluded a great show with a moving rendition of a song of his called ‘Set Fire to the Sky’. On his set list, he had as his final number, a cover of a well known Richard Thompson song, a favourite of mine, ‘Vincent Black Lightning’. I take it that he didn’t deliver this one due to time constraints. No matter, he’d put on an excellent performance, that I for one, will hope to see repeated at the Witham in the not too distant future (and then maybe I’ll get to hear his version of  ‘Vincent Black Lightning’!)

The management of the Witham and Chilli Enterprises should be congratulated, for putting on the show and I would hope that this show is only the first of many such joint promotions.


Thursday, 21 September 2017 09:14

Canary, A Teenage response

Written by

Fun in the Oven Theatre Company presented Canary at The Witham on Wednesday 13 September 2017. Our reviewer Evie Brenkley (aged 14) reviews...

With bright yellow faces and dark blue overalls, the highly talented actresses of ‘Canary’ certainly caught one’s eye, and the play was equally striking. Darkly comedic and fabulous, the play was based on the ‘Canary Girls’ - brave women called upon during WW1 in a desperate time of need. When desperate for soldiers, Britain had raided all of its factories for men - and had no-one doing important jobs such as making the weaponry and explosives needed to fight. Once domestic slaves, the girls were now the key to pulling through and winning the war, making munitions and for the front line. Although it gave them illnesses, including yellow skin due to the toxic poisoning, many women enjoyed their new job as it gave them independence and a chance to live their life as their own. The play really gave us an in-depth detail of their lives and the entire thing was really fascinating. If you ever get the chance to go and see it - do, it is very enlightening and well worth watching.

The first part of the play is a sort of advert for the Canary Girls, with a narrator giving the girls life as they go about their daily tasks. This all changes, however, when an air raid strikes and the girls are left alone - just the three of them. When the actresses really discover themselves, we watch some heart-wrenching material whilst connecting to them on an emotional level. The entire play is very well choreographed and put together, constantly hilarious. The script was well written too and really emphasised showing us the women’s lives and also how they were being treated. The majority of it was still applicable to today’s society, making the play really thought-provoking at so many stages.

When the end of the air raid, and then the war was announced, everybody was given a short break, before the audience was allowed back into the theatre for a Q&A session with the actresses and their director. This was very interesting and allowed us all to gain a deeper understanding of the play. They all told us that they had such good fun producing the play, and improvising in rehearsals to discover their characters. They are still working on the final play, to make the whole thing really exciting so that “no one ever leaves the room.”

The audience loved it too, and it struck the teenagers there in particular. One of them told me they “thought the subject matter was very interesting and the physical way it was portrayed was excellent”. Another said, “the lighting flowed very clearly, and it came together well with the sound and the acting”. Certainly, the overriding consensus from all was that the play was incredibly enjoyable.

‘Canary’ has an excellent mix of fact and fiction, funny and heartbreaking; and the contrast between happy and sad is excellently portrayed. It is very well put together, with wonderful character development and the plot line is almost faultless, with every concept flowing together nicely. Considering this is still a work in progress, I can’t wait to see it develop and flourish in the future.


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