Steering group members

Graeme Thompson, University of Sunderland

Graeme Thompson, Chair of the Cultural Spring steering group, is Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media at the University of Sunderland. He came to academia in the summer of 2009 from ITV where he had been managing director and controller of programmes for both ITV Tyne Tees and ITV Border.

He is responsible for one of the biggest media and journalism departments in the UK with more than 1,000 students and world-leading academic researchers. The David Puttnam Media Centre represents an investment of over £10m in the latest High Definition studios, cameras, radio suites and post-production and newsroom technology. Graeme’s Faculty also includes Fine Art, Photography, Design, Performing Arts and the National Glass Centre, which has re-opened following a £2.5m refurbishment. He is a founder member of the Sunderland Cultural Partnership.

As a commissioner and executive producer for ITV he was responsible for a multi-million pound slate of regional production.

Before joining ITV in 1989 as a news editor, Graeme was a producer at BBC Radio York and at Radio 4 where his credits included You and Yours and Woman’s Hour. He spent his early career as a newspaper journalist working for Berrows Newspapers and the Express and Star.

Graeme is a Trustee of the Royal Television Society and is chair of the society’s North East and Borders Centre. He is a past chairman of Live Theatre in Newcastle and Business in the Community. He is a board member of the Customs House in South Shields.

He was born in South Shields and is married with three children.


Paul Callaghan, Sunderland MAC Trust

Paul is Chairman and founder of Leighton, the global technology, software, media and
communications group that is based in Sunderland. Paul trained as an economist, with a
first degree in economics from the LSE, a masters degree in management and education from Newcastle University and a further masters degree in finance and economics from the University of Salford. On top of his role at Leighton, Paul was a founder director of the
Entrepreneurs’ Forum and was formerly Chairman of RTC North and Chairman of Business Link North East.
He is Chairman of Live Theatre in Newcastle and sits on the development board of the SAFC Foundation charity. Paul is an Honorary Fellow of the University of Sunderland and is also Chairman of its Board of Governors. He is also Co-sponsor and Chairman of Red House Academy, a new city academy in Sunderland, Chair of the Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Trust, and the Make a Difference Foundation. He is also Deputy Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and of the Institute of Administrative Management.


Ray Spencer, Customs House

Ray has been the Executive Director at The Customs House for 14 years. He oversaw the Creative Partnerships and Find Your Talent programmes across North and South Tyneside. Ray was Chair of the Culture and Wellbeing Board in South Tyneside for eight years and is now a member of the South Tyneside Partnership Board keeping the role of culture at the centre of strategic planning in South Tyneside.

Ray serves on the North East Cultural Venues group and has encouraged several initiatives including, Bridging the Gap and Dance Touring Partnership. He was the strategic lead on the Follow the Herring project and worked closely with the BBC to deliver the Great North Passion project alongside the Cultural Spring.

Ray has written and produced new work, including a long standing collaborative partnership with the writer Tom Kelly and since 1996 Ray has co-written and directed The Customs House pantomime.

Ray studied BA Creative Arts at Northumbria University. He was awarded an MBE in 2010 for services to the arts in the North East and in 2011 he was made an Honorary Fellow at Sunderland University. In December 2013 he achieved the Paul Harris Fellowship award.


Alan Kerr

Councillor Kerr is Deputy Leader of South Tyneside Council and a member of the council’s Cabinet. He has worked in transport, management services and training, and in local government for more than 25 years.

He is interested in health matters, education, the aspirations and interests of young people, and the care and treatment of older people.

He was Deputy Mayor of South Tyneside in 2000-2001 and Mayor the following year.

Councillor Kerr is married with two grown-up children and four grandchildren.

He enjoys reading, music, theatre, cricket and football – he’s an avid Newcastle United supporter.


John Kelly – Portfolio Holder for Public Health

As Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture Cllr John Kelly provide leadership for the Council and its partners in order to lead partners to achieve improvements in public health, health awareness and wellness in the City and to develop and promote the cultural strategy and initiatives.