Over £1m for three North East culture venues in new round of Arts Council investment awards

The Customs House in South Shields is one of three local recipients of new Arts Council awards
The Customs House in South Shields is one of three local recipients of new Arts Council awards -Credit:(c) David Barnsley

A South Tyneside theatre, arts charity and dance company have received a cash boost which it is said will ultimately help unleash creative potential.

It was announced this Wednesday that The Customs House in South Shields; Gateway Studio centre in Gateshead and Southpaw Dance Company in Monkwearmouth, Sunderland, will share an award of around £1.14m investment to help improve accessibility; reduce their environmental impact and support new business models - and that all means good news for locals. The awards from Arts Council England form part of the second round of its Capital Investment Programme which sees a total of £24.2m go to 67 cultural and creative organisations across the country.

And the Arts Council says this infrastructure support - with grants ranging from £100,000 to £750,000 - will in turn support the production of high-quality creative work and unleash more potential. The Gateway Studio, a dance and arts charity run from a grade one-listed former church in Gateshead High Street, receives the largest of the local awards, with a grant of £450,000 which is intended to restore and 're-purpose' its historic Trinity Centre premises for contemporary use.

The aim is to create an environmentally-sustainable community hub there and develop an ‘arts village’ for people from a range of backgrounds. And Gateway Studio is "overjoyed" at the investment news, which it shared on Facebook and says will bring it a further step closer to realising its ambitions.

It has now raised £2.3m towards the £2.8m target to secure its dreams and its artistic director Martin Hylton said: “Dance and the arts are powerful tools in transforming individuals and communities. This new development will not only put Gateshead firmly on the map in terms of developing and supporting professional artists but will also help to transform and kick start the regeneration of Gateshead High Street."

Martin Hylton, artistic director at the Gateway Studio, pictured in 2019
Martin Hylton, artistic director at the Gateway Studio, pictured in 2019 -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

The Customs House receives a grant for a little less: £446,220, which is to be spent on upgrading facilities and improving the venue's environmental impact - and planned work includes system upgrades; introducing captioned performances and revamping dressing rooms, rehearsal and community spaces and toilet facilities.

The theatre was also delighted at its award, announcing the "amazing news" on Facebook and adding: "With this much-needed support we will be able to upgrade our facilities and improve the quality of cultural experience for people in South Tyneside and the surrounding areas."

And Southpaw Dance Company, creator of both indoor and outdoor dance, is awarded £249,122 which will help make a new studio into a centre for innovation and digital dance, with the purchase of augmented reality and virtual reality equipment aimed at engaging with less-included parts of the community.

The new nationwide grants, from Government funding, cover 2023-24 and 2024-25 investment periods and across the country other venues too will be spending them on the likes of building adaptations and purchase of equipment to improve access; making the most of technological opportunities and reducing environmental impact. An Arts Council spokesman said the local projects "will help secure the creative future of towns, villages and communities across the North East, including in places where cultural investment has previously been too low".

Jane Tarr, the Arts Council's north director, said of the awards: “This is brilliant news for organisations in the North East. I’m excited to see the impact this funding from our Capital Investment Programme will have on artists and creative practitioners to be able to create in their communities through our investment in projects like Gateway Studio’s ‘artist village’ and I also look forward to seeing the work that will be made with the new digital equipment this funding will provide Southpaw Dance and others.

"It’s great to see the many projects we are supporting that have environmental responsibility at their core including Customs House which will be using the funding to improve their facilities’ environmental impact." She added: "This funding will ensure that cultural companies and venues across the region will be able to deliver arts and creative activity to audiences and communities in our villages, towns and cities.”

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Libraries, said the aim is to ensure everyone has access to "life-changing cultural opportunities" and added: “Cultural venues enrich our lives, and it’s vital that their infrastructure matches the excellence of the creative work that goes on inside them."

The first round of the Capital Investment Programme was announced in May 2022 and benefited 16 organisations in the wider north, including Darlington Borough Council whose award is helping to create a new visitor destination at the Head of Steam museum site, which will be at the heart of the bicentennial anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 2025.