PLANS UNAFFECTED: Shelagh Avery, chairwoman of the trustees at The Witham
PLANS UNAFFECTED: Shelagh Avery, chairwoman of the trustees at The Witham

THE man appointed to help secure the future of Barnard Castle’s arts centre has left after less than three months in post.

David McKnight was unveiled as manager of The Witham in early January after helping turn round the fortunes of Hartlepool’s HMS Trincomalee – Britain’s oldest historic fighting ship still afloat.

Having helped to transform the attraction’s financial fortunes, trustees at The Witham hoped he could do the same for the centre, which was only saved from closure last year thanks to a successful public appeal for cash and a grant from Durham County Council.

However, Mr McKnight left at short notice at the beginning of March.

Shelagh Avery, chairwoman of trustees, said: “The Witham was a more demanding role in terms of time and level of commitment and he decided that it was in the best interests of The Witham and of him and his family that he would move on.

“David will continue to be a Witham supporter.

“The trustees, staff and volunteers are all appreciative of his efforts during his short tenure.”

In the short term, Ms Avery said The Witham would continue without a manager.

“The staff team have decided to increase their contribution and at the recent volunteers meeting they all asked what more they could do,” she said.

“The trustees will, in due course, commence a recruitment process for a new manager.”

Ms Avery said Mr McKnight’s departure would not affect ongoing operational plans at The Witham.

These include the launch of a new website – including online ticket booking – in April, along with the launch of a new Friends of The Witham scheme.

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The centre is also planning a new film club along with the launch of its spring and summer programme.

Since the complex was reopened in 2013 following a £3.2million revamp, it has struggled to cover its costs on a day-to-day basis.

Matters came to a head in August last year when a £30k in 30 days public appeal for cash was launched to save the centre from closure.

The appeal proved successful, with more than £42,000 being raised.

Durham County Council then stepped in with a £60,000 grant to help tide The Witham over during the current year.

However, the high cost of running the building continues to occupy the minds of trustees and fundraising events continue.

An application for further funds has been made to the Arts Council and other benefit shows are planned.

An afternoon St Patrick’s Day festival will take place on Sunday, March 17, with doors open at 1.30pm for a 2.15pm start.

There will be music from the bands High Force and Teesdale Folk plus a performance by the youngsters from the Tierney School of Irish Dance and a ceilidh.

Then on April 14, from 6.30pm, there will be Sunday Night at The Witham.

Host for the evening will be comedian Cal Halbert, who closed proceedings when a similar event was staged to a full house last September.

Acts taking part include blues rockers the Corner Boys, the Euphoria Choir, members of Judi Sutherland’s Poetry for Pleasure group, teenage Barney pop singer Jeshika Bassett, ukulele music from Staindrop's D’Ukes of Scarth, country music from Dixon J Scott and a performance by the duo Pellingman’s Saraband, featuring Jacob Heringman and Susanna Pell.