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 The Summer of Stories menu development workshop with the school council from Green Lane School in Barnard Castle

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.


Wednesday, 05 July 2017 12:31

Generations connect through stories at The Witham

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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.

Tuesday, 04 July 2017 13:18

The Witham and the funding challenge

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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?

  • The Arts Council highlighted that we’ve never managed a large budget. Caroline rather poignantly pointed out, it’s can be harder to manage a small budget than a large one. That said, we as an organisation are a young arts centre. Compared to other organisations, we have only been going for four years in our current guise and this doesn’t give the Arts Council the proof of longevity they like to know we’re sustainable over longer periods of time. For example, Pocklington Arts Centre were awarded NPO for the first time this year and they started their journey in 2000.
  • We were able to demonstrate diversity in our programming but not as much in our staff or audience compared to other areas. This is a tough one as we can only be as diverse as the population around us and as a rural upland community, this will always be limited.
  • Competition was extremely fierce – not one new combined arts venue in County Durham received NPO funding.  


 So our next steps (after dusting ourselves off) are:

  • Our future viability is dependent on fundraising. NPO would have lifted the pressure to secure our future for four years. Without it, we have sufficient funds for the time being, having securing the Grants for the Arts money which covers much of this year but we need to be constantly continuing to fundraise to still be here in a year, two years, three years time.
  • We are going to raise funds in four ways – work with corporate partners to secure their support, place bids to various organisations to support both project work and capital requirements, increasingly raise awareness with the public of the necessity of supporting The Witham in an ongoing basis and running fundraising events (such as Christmas dos, New Year’s Eve and the Beer and Busk in August) to bring in funds.
  • The staff team will continue to work our socks off, and we will continue too to be stretched to cover the day to day running of the building as well as the programming, strategy, marketing, maintenance and fundraising. We need our volunteers more than ever now not only to help maintain the customer service requirements but also to be ambassadors in the local community to help spread the word about the Witham and about fund raising  requirements.
  • We will work towards the next NPO funding draft in 2022 (the bid will be due in 2021), continuing to work as we have to raise our profile, make new and exciting partnership, keep The Witham pulsing with excellent arts and community activity so we’re ripe for the next NPO funding  opportunity.

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.

Many thanks,

Katy Taylor and The Witham team


Entries are now open for New Light Prize Exhibition, one of the largest open exhibitions in the country with great prizes and awards, including the £10,000 Valeria Sykes Award, Emerging Artist Award and Printmakers’ Prize amongst others.

Selected works will be exhibited in the North’s most prestigious venues: the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle; Huddersfield Art Gallery; and Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle. Also, for the first time, all artists will be exhibited at the Bankside Gallery, London.


For artists born, based or who have studied in the North of England.

Deadline 31 July 2017

For more details visit


Twitter @newlightart

Instagram @NewLightArt


Hello there,

I am Dori Henderson, a rag rug maker and artist living in Gamblesby, Cumbria.

A few years ago I went on a rag rug making course at Greystoke Cycle Café and Quirky Workshops at Greystoke, near Penrith.  The course was led by Emma Tennant, who is one of the leading exponents of the craft.  Not only did I really enjoy my day, I completed my rug (a sleeping fox) at home and later sold it during my C Art open studio in 2015.  Since then I have made many more, some as commissions, and started teaching workshops of my own.

I use the loop method (where loops of fabric are pulled through the hessian from the back) for my rugs, rather than the perhaps better known proddy method (where pieces of fabric are prodded through from the front).  Both methods use a hook;  I prefer a latch hook as it is easier.  With the looped method, a pile without cut ends is produced – which makes for a harder wearing rug and a clearer view of the design.

The raw materials are very cheap! I trawl the charity shops for old wool blankets, jumpers and scarves and old tweed jackets, and also polyester fleeces for their colours and texture.  The hessian comes from my local sewing emporium; in the old days, people would have used feed sacks.

On the course you need to bring any fabrics you would like to use, and some ideas for your design.  I will provide some fabrics too and there will be enough to start you off on your project.  I will also provide, for you to keep, hessian, latch hooks, strong linen thread, and the wooden stretcher frames to which you will attach the hessian to keep the work taut. 

The project, once on its frame, takes up a fair amount of space, so it might be as well to make sure you have plenty of car boot space!

Looking forward to meeting you and creating some amazing rugs together!

Find out about the course now and book a place!


Wednesday, 05 April 2017 16:33

Wondrous Watercolours Exhibition

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The latest exhibition to bedeck the walls of The Gallery at The Witham, Wondrous Watercolours, opened to rapturous applause last Thursday, and has been bringing light and delight to visitors ever since.

Wondrous Watercolours is an exhibition of bright and beautiful paintings by watercolourists Michael Farmer, Jenny Ulyatt, and Sarah Hill, all of whom take their inspiration from the colour, light and shape that occur naturally around them. Admission to the exhibition is free, and the exhibition is open to the public 10am to 4pm Tuesdays to Saturdays until Saturday 22 April 2017. All work in the exhibition is for sale.

Michael Farmer is a watercolourist whose work is inspired by rural, regional landscapes.  Michael lives and works in Ainderby Steeple, just outside Northallerton, the county town of North Yorkshire; he shares his creative workspace, Ainderby Steeple Studios, with his step-daughter, Jenny Ulyatt, and friend, Sarah Hill, who both live in Durham.

Whilst elusive online, Michael has exhibited extensively over the years, and is a highly regarded artist with a wide number of collectors across the region. Sarah Hill and Jenny Ulyatt both come from science backgrounds, but started painting a few years ago under the tutelage of Michael Farmer, a retired architect who first developed his practice as a watercolourist adding colour to his technical, architectural drawings. Upon retirement, Michael turned his attentions away from the “drawing board”, and towards paper and palette developing his artistic practice whilst incorporating his impressive draftsmanship, and keen eye for detail, within his paintings.

Jenny, and in turn Sarah, were both enamoured by the masterful, loose, and romantic skies in Michael’s paintings. Now established artists, and arts workshop facilitators, in their own right, it is easy to see Michael’s influence on Jenny and Sarah’s work. All three artists employ a combination of expressive, suggestive brushstrokes in addition to fine detail. Their works are all beautifully balanced, in terms of composition; but perhaps most striking for artists working in watercolour, is the similarly bold, confident palette employed by each of these three, accomplished artists.

Taking the viewer by surprise, Jenny and Sarah playfully push the boundaries of this traditional medium employing fascinating techniques to great effect. Look closely at some of the works to observe delicate spotting where the painterly pigment has been lifted off the paper have been soaked up by the rock salt crystals that the artists have flecked on to their works. Similarly, Jenny has printed with bubble-wrap to add texture to some of the surfaces in her paintings; she comments, “As an artist I think of the creative painting process as being like cooking – my ingredients include sketches, photographs, memories of places, and my imagination. I find my paintings work best when these elements combine to make something that is more interesting, surprising and lively than the individual parts I started with. Like the tastiest things I have cooked, there is no recipe to follow to enable me to repeat a success.   But as all cooks know, the pleasure is not in repeating the last recipe, but in coming up with the next, and in this way I hope I continue to produce new and interesting work."

Initially approaching her creative practice from an arts therapy perspective, Sarah comments on how her work has developed, 
“I am a fairly new artist and began experimenting with Watercolour painting about three years ago when I developed chronic asthma. I found that the focus created by painting was both healing and relaxing.  Having spent a period of time in poor health I now find that I see a great deal of beauty in simple, every-day things.  I am most inspired by the little moments of colour, light and shape that occur naturally all around me and I try to represent that as best I can. I absolutely love the colours, clarity, patterns and fluidity that are so integral to watercolour painting. I try to keep things loose and fresh to allow the watercolour paints to express themselves and create the painting for me! I hope that my art is as calming for others as it has been for me."

In addition to one of Sarah's sketchbooks revealing the process behind her paintings, and the original watercolour paintings for sale in this exhibition, Sarah and Jenny also have limited edition prints and cards of their original work for sale. All purchases should be made through the Shop at The Witham.

by Sarah Mayhew Craddock
Visual Arts Coordinator

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