THE GATHER: One of the projects by Northern Heartlands was to look at hill farming in upper Teesdale
THE GATHER: One of the projects by Northern Heartlands was to look at hill farming in upper Teesdale

A SCHEME that helps fund and promote art in the Teesdale area is to continue after becoming a registered charity.

Northern Heartlands was funded by Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of the national Great Place Scheme. The Great Place Scheme is due to end in September but plans are in place so Northern Heartlands can carry on.

Its work has included the Hefted to Hill project, which look at uplands farming, as well as community art shows. The scheme has survived the Covid-19 crisis by transferring its two final major projects to the internet. At the point of lockdown, the team was planning a three-day symposium with speakers and entertainment at the TCR Hub, in Barnard Castle.

Four performances of a major new opera, in partnership with Opera North, involving members of the community from across the south and west of County Durham, was due to be held in Shildon.

Both of these projects are now happening online, with community chorus members for the opera rehearsing weekly from their homes with composer Will Todd in preparation for a virtual choir recording.

The full Opera North orchestra, chorus and soloists are all being recorded separately and the opera will be released as a film version online later this year, with screenings also taking place locally.

Part of the project involved offering mentoring opportunities to give people a taste of the professional arts world.

Darlington’s Samantha Hutchinson, a music graduate from Durham University, was given the role of office and events assistant with Northern Heartlands.

“I really hope to have a career in arts and events management”, she said. “I know it’s a difficult world to get in to, so it was great to have this opportunity on my doorstep”. But two weeks into her new role in the office in Barnard Castle, lockdown was imposed.

Northern Heartlands director Jill Cole had been impressed with her work and wanted to find a way to keep her involved.

Ms Hutchinson started to take part in the community opera rehearsals online – as a trained classical singer it was quite easy for her to pick up the music. She has also managed the project’s social media sites.

“We were struggling to keep up our profile on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook” explained Ms Cole. “It’s a full-on job writing professionally-sounding content for all three sites regularly through the week and at the same time keeping an eye on ‘traffic’ and any other information that is relevant and interesting.”

A small budget was found to pay for her new part-time role.

“Although the Great Place Scheme will be ending later this year, Northern Heartlands looks set to continue and has now been established as an independent charity,” said Ms Cole.

“Lockdown has been hard for so many people, with millions losing their jobs. The arts and culture sector has been one of the hardest hit. But in this particular instance, the pandemic crisis has had something of a silver lining.”