A good friend of mine messaged me and said, the Peatbog Faeries are playing in your neck of the woods at some place called The Witham, want to come with me?
Being from the neighbouring area, it seems like I’ve known about the Witham for a long time. It’s a bit like KitKats, I don’t recall a time that I ever didn’t know about KitKats. They’ve just always been there. Of course, I actually only moved here two and half years ago so there was obviously a time BW. What I’m trying to say is The Witham is one of those venues that just fits so beautifully into life. You want to entertain the kids in the half term? The Witham’ll be doing something. You fancy a bit of theatre? I bet you the Witham will have something on. Or how about a bit of classical music, folk, comedy? Yep, they have it.
The Peatbog Faeries are one of those groups that I’ve always been meaning to go and see, but just hadn’t got round to. So this seemed ideal. And it was. The tickets arrived and we opened them together (because, even though they’d come to my house the letter was in Annie’s name and it’s really not the done thing to open other people’s post, even when I know it’s actually for me. What if it hadn’t been? Oh, the ethical terror.) and it said, rather enigmatically standing ticket. What does that mean? The Witham always has seats, fold-away seats! Being a Peatbog Faerie novice I had no idea that it was impossible to actually sit through a concert.
In we went to the main hall of the Witham. A place I know well. Here I’ve seen comedy shows, Shakespeare, Alan Bennet, folk music, and the children have been entertained by a magical cleaner. This time it was bare, seatless like a real concert! Ticket holders clung to the edges, unsure of this new, expansive emptiness, yet we saw familiar faces right at the front and so we joined them. And I’m so very glad we did. The concert (for anyone like me, who knew nothing of these boggy Faeries) was folksy, rocky, trancey, dancey. From the first bar to the very last I simply could not stay still. I danced and got sweaty, allowing myself to be carried far away into the land where faeries really do come from peatbogs, and that far from being dead, dour places, peatbogs are filled with cavorting magical creatures that occasionally take human form and come into respectable venues to ensnare hapless wristband wearing humans.
As we left I saw smiling faces all around, I saw that the Witham had played host once again to a very special moment in our rural lives. It is a portal, is this place. It can invite and hold and ensnare and bear witness to quite magical things. It is a place to be glad of and a place to trust with one’s soul, if even for a short snippet of time, as you leave sensibility at the foyer bar and enter into the Room, never to leave the same.
The Witham's Autumn programme 2017 is introduced by the wonderful Northern Poet Ian McMillan (thank you so much!) with the following words:
I was lucky enough to perform at The Witham in April of this year with my musician mate Luke Carver Goss; we had a fantastic evening and it stuck me at the time, and it continues to strike me, that The Witham is a perfect example of what an arts centre in a small town can be and what it can strive to become. After all, it’s The Witham, not The Withoutham.
I think that arts centres are fun palaces and places of philosophical enquiry; they’re laughter-rooms and labs of new thinking. They’re places where you can grin from ear to ear and they’re spaces where you can stand for a moment and say ‘Do you know, I never thought of that!’ They’re safe and inviting rooms where coffee and cake can be eaten and drunk and they’re performance areas and galleries that can enhance your day or your evening. They remind us the arts are not just the cherry on the cake: they are the cake itself.
And The Witham is all these things. We’re living in uncertain times when, more than ever, we’re asking ourselves, as a country and as a North, who we are, and arts centres can be part of that enquiry. A place like The Witham can present a town and a region back to itself so that the people of Barnard Castle and beyond become part of the story.
Long may The Witham continue to thrive; visit it regularly, cherish it, challenge it, enjoy it.
And then have some more lovely cake.
I must stop talking about cake.
Ian McMillan @IMcMillan
With illustrations from 1970s to the current day, visitors can experience the journey of the illustrator when developing a children’s book, from the initial sketches and story boards to the completed published book. This exhibition will reveal all the hard work and creativity that is required to bring characters to life!
The exhibitions will showcase a range of inspirational works by six illustrators, all living in, or from the North. This includes original works by renowned children’s illustrator, Linda Birch, the illustrator of the much-loved Bagpuss series, as well as creator of the Simon and the Witch, Jackanory and more than 150 other books including Conker, by Warhorse author Michael Morpurgo, which won an award in Children’s Books of the Year, and Who Shot Queen Victoria? by Horrible Histories author Terry Deary.
Also exhibiting is Stuart Trotter, an experienced illustrator, author and designer who has worked on family favourites from classic titles to Disney characters, including Winnie the Pooh, Wallace and Gromit, Noddy, Thomas the Tank Engine, Topsy and Tim, Kipper, Postman Pat, and is now the author and illustrator of Rupert Bear for Egmont’s Rupert Bear Annual.
Also bringing his beautiful contemporary illustrations is Matthew Swan, a painter and cartoonist based in London having studied at Edinburgh College of Art. His comic 'Parsley Girl: Carrots' was nominated for the Young People's Comic Award 2016.
The Witham are delighted to welcome Sharron Bates, a freelance artist and illustrator who lives and works in County Durham. A recent graduate from Cleveland College of Art & Design, Sharron exhibits her work in both Britain and internationally and will be bringing her story boards and illustrations for her book, Where’s Brian? Sharron is also bringing a children’s illustration workshop to The Witham on Wednesday 9th August.
The Magic of Illustration also includes the illustrator, Liz Million, who is from Darlington and famed for her popular books Be Quiet Belinda and Not So Silly Sausage, and will be at Barnard Castle library for an Illustration workshop will be leading story and illustration events at libraries across County Durham next week.
Cumbrian artist Catherine Beaumont is the final illustrator with beautiful watercolours to adds an element of beautiful fantasy to the Magic of Illustration exhibition, inspired by Fairy tales, myths and legends.
Come to enjoy the Magic of Illustration Exhibition from 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday (free admission) or call on 01833 631107. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Thank you to Heather and Rosie for this lovely blog post about today's menu development workshop, inspired by Fairy tales, myths and legends... and do come to the Café to enjoy tasting the dishes that the children dreamed up with their fantastic imaginations! Thank you too to Teesdale Area Action Partnership and the James Knott Trust for your support.
Today Green Lane School Council went to the Witham to do a project for the café. We had to think of lots of ideas for 3 different meals, which included a main course, dessert and a drink, for myths, legends & fairy tales. Firstly, we had to come up with characters or stories that were either fairy tales, myths or legends. Next, we had to get into groups of three and design and name different foods and drink that were related to the three topics. After we had to share our ideas with everybody in the room, we listened to all the great suggestions and names. Then we had to choose one of each of our groups’ ideas for the summer stories’ menu and design it.
At the end, we had some delicious shortbread which the café chefs had made that morning. Finally, we had our picture taken by the Mercury. We all had a lovely time and we would like to say thank you to the staff of the Witham for having us.
By Heather Brown & Rosie Payne, Year 6, Green Lane School.
Intergenerational workshop inspires all ages through art and stories
“Were you in the first World War?” Bill had hardly got his feet under the table and introduced himself before being asked this question.
Bill was one of the senior participants in an Intergenerational project for The Witham’s wonderful Summer of Stories, his questioner one of the junior ones. This exchange took place on Tuesday when seventeen enthusiastic year 4 children from Montalbo School and six residents from the Manor House Care Home got together to share their favourite stories. Facilitated by Gemma McColl, a local artist, the project aimed to bring together groups of children and adults, who may not normally meet and demonstrate that through a mutual interest conversations can flow. Reading or talking about a favourite story was a channel through which both children and adults could share experiences of their lives, find commonalities and build relationships.
The children began the day by drawing portraits of each other, making good use of the artistic guidance that Gemma had given them. When the senior participants in the project arrived the children rushed to get out their chosen books. No matter whether the stories were old favourites or modern tales, the conversations flowed as both children and adults read to each other and talked about the stories they loved.
Having learnt a little more about their sitters, the children took up their brushes to paint portraits, with many of them including elements of the stories discussed in their pictures. The adults rediscovered the joy of creating too, as they used a pencil or paintbrush for the first time in many years. The children ended the day by making frames for their finished portraits which will be proudly displayed in The Witham in August.
The buzz of conversation, the level of engagement of the children and the smiles on the faces of all the participants, both young and old, was a testament to the success of an enjoyable and productive day.
Written by Marilyn Normanton, The Witham Volunteer
Thank you to Marilyn for this blog post following her participation in the workshop at The Witham on Tuesday 4th July. Thank you to Sir James Knott Trust and the Teesdale Area Action Partnership (TAP) for supporting this project, to Gemma McColl from Suitcase Studios for realising our plan with such creativity and spark, to the dream team of volunteers, Marilyn, Marion and Emma, school staff and Manor House and Catherine Howard.
The Witham didn't make on the Arts Council's National Portfolio for 2018 - 22
I’m really sorry to say The Witham didn’t secure the National Portfolio Organisation Funding that we’d hoped to, as announced on 27th June. We put in a strong bid – the feedback from the Arts Council was very positive in response to how we deliver artistic excellence and engage our audiences. We met all the criteria required and were praised for the work we’ve achieved and our plans for the future.
So why didn’t we get it?
So our next steps (after dusting ourselves off) are:
Thanks to those who have popped your head round the door to ask about the news and I’m so sorry it’s not better news. The team here have been reeling a little after what has been a very tough few months but we are ready to continue to work hard to make The Witham flourish and, with your help, I have no doubt we can do that.
We are not going to close our doors in the next few months and with hard work and focus, we won’t do so in the next few years but our path unfortunately won’t be as easy as it would have been had we made it on to the Arts Council’s National Portfolio.
With your help, I know we will continue to thrive – thank you in advance for all you can do to help us.
Katy Taylor and The Witham team