A vision to transform Bishop Auckland Town Hall into a thriving cultural hub will be presented to councillors next week.
Durham County Council’s Cabinet will be asked to endorse a proposal to refurbish and fully redefine the Market Place venue as part of the wider regeneration of Bishop Auckland.
The £1.5 million investment is expected to save money in the long run by making the Grade II listed building more sustainable, with an improved layout and modern facilities allowing for a bigger and more enticing programme of events and activities. This would attract people from outside of the local area, boosting the venue’s revenue and increasing footfall in the town centre.
It would also contribute to the town’s growing reputation as a cultural destination, complementing major events such as Kynren and the multi-million-pound redevelopment of Auckland Castle.
Improvements would include the creation of a new café, bar and contemporary art gallery space on the ground floor, as well as enhanced library facilities. The auditorium would also be revamped to include more comfortable seating, and the cinema would become fully digitised, allowing popular blockbusters to be shown as well as live screenings, theatrical productions, comedy nights and lectures.
Bishop Auckland is fast becoming a centre for the visual arts following the opening of the Mining Art Gallery by the Auckland Project in 2017, along with the upcoming opening of the Spanish Art Gallery. The creation of a dedicated Norman Cornish Gallery within the town hall would build upon this, while providing a permanent home for the artist’s Durham Miners’ Gala mural, currently on display in County Hall.
Cabinet will hear how the proposed refurbishment supports the ambitions of both the Bishop Auckland Master Plan and the Towns and Villages Strategy when it meets in Crook Civic Centre on Wednesday, 15 May.
If Cabinet approves the recommendations, work would begin on site in the autumn and is expected to be completed by spring next year subject to planning and listed building consent. The council would also consult with local people and visitors about the kind of events, theatrical productions, exhibitions and activities on offer at the venue.
During the planned closure, opening hours would be extended at Woodhouse Close Library. The planning of wider library services within the town is also being considered.