FIT FOR PURPOSE: Shelagh Avery is the new chairperson of The Witham trustees
FIT FOR PURPOSE: Shelagh Avery is the new chairperson of The Witham trustees

THE volunteer manager who took day-to-day charge of Barnard Castle’s arts centre during its make-or-break public appeal for cash has been chosen to head the complex's board of trustees.

Shelagh Avery has succeeded Bob Garton, who stood down after more than three years as chairman of The Witham.

Ms Avery joined The Witham in May, having taken up permanent residence in the dale and planning to retire after a career that included extensive experience in the oil and gas sector.

Instead, she stepped in to help at The Witham in May as trustees fought to keep the complex going in the face of an increasing financial deficit.

The arts centre was saved from closure in the late summer thanks to the success of a £30k in 30 days appeal, which eventually raised more than £42,000.

A subsequent cash injection of £60,000 from Durham County Council has secured The Witham's future for the next 12 months and an interim manager will be appointed in the coming weeks to take over from Ms Avery, who will chair her first board meeting on Wednesday, December 12.

Ms Avery said she had been delighted to accept the post.

“It will change my relationship from day-to-day operations to supporting the new centre manager and the team.”

Despite having no previous experience in the arts, Ms Avery said her efforts in recent months demonstrated how people have transferable skills.

“Many people who have experienced other industry can help invest in The Witham by giving their time. I am an example of that.”

She said the aim of the trustees during the coming months was to make The Witham a venue which offered something for everyone and the programme of events for the first months of 2019 would reflect this.

“It is about looking at every aspect of The Witham and making sure it is fit for purpose,” added Ms Avery.

She said she planned to listen to customers, staff and volunteers during the coming months.

“Listening does not mean automatically accepting ideas, but it is a chance to evaluate.”

Mr Garton announced his intention to stand down as chairman at The Witham's annual meeting in September.

However, he will continue to serve as an ambassador for community relations on a newly-created advisory board which will operate separately to the executive board, whose members will be accountable for the various aspects on The Witham's operation.

Mr Garton said The Witham was in good hands.

“The reason for standing down is that I have been doing it for three years and any organisation needs to be refreshed,” he said.

“We have come a long way and we have started to understand what it takes to run The Witham. We have learned some hard but good lessons and that puts us in a better position for going forward.”