Research & Development Opportunity: The Customs House 25th Year Anniversary

The Customs House in partnership with The Cultural Spring, South Tyneside Council and St.Hilda’s Pit Head are seeking to commission between two-three artist-led Research & Development projects for a large-scale commission that will culminate in the last week of October 2019. The research and development projects will be decided by a community panel and can include more of a process driven approach and / or a final outcome.

About The Customs House
The Customs House (TCH) is the premiere arts organisation in South Tyneside and an integral part of the borough. We deliver projects in partnership with our local authority and The Cultural Spring. We are committed to promoting arts opportunities across all of our communities, and we attract individuals who do not engage in the arts elsewhere.  TCH believes in people and fosters creativity, and we provide opportunities for every schoolchild to perform or exhibit work. This will be a one-off experience for some but it will be the first step into a career for others.

Almost half of ST’s residents live in wards in the 20% most deprived in the country. Young people are more likely to experience social deprivation with half of all households in the borough in receipt of benefits and 28% of children living in poverty. We are proud of our work with children and young people; our track record of accrediting their engagement through Arts Award, our high-quality in-house groups, our meaningful and challenging schools’ offer, and the opportunity to programme the venue and share their work during this programme

About the Cultural Spring
The Cultural Spring is the Arts Council England funded Creative People and Place Programme for Sunderland and South Tyneside. The Cultural Spring project is made up of a consortium of four partners, the University of Sunderland (our lead organisation), Sunderland Music Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust, The Customs House (South Shields) and Sangini. The Cultural Spring’s vision is for arts and culture to be an expected and accepted part of everyone’s lives in South Tyneside and Sunderland.

The Cultural Spring aims to;
1. Increase participation in our wards

2. Enable excellent art to happen in our wards

3. Create a lasting social and cultural legacy for Sunderland and South Tyneside

4. Reflect and share learning

About South Tyneside Council
As a local authority, South Tyneside is not only proud of its culture and heritage, it works consistently to protect and expand it. South Tyneside’s latest cultural offering, The Word, National Centre for the Written Word, opened its doors in late 2016 to great acclaim. The Word, National Centre for the Written Word is South Tyneside Council’s new state-of-the-art cultural venue which forms the centrepiece of the £100 million regeneration of South Shields Town Centre.

The building is brimming with exciting new experiences, activities and facilities for people of all ages to engage and enjoy, from a digital media wall and FabLab to an immersive storytelling experience and interactive touch-tables. The building will also be home to 70,000 books and OpenZone which provides digital learning and ICT to schools.

The opening of Jarrow Hall, on the site of the former Bede’s World, by Groundwork South Tyneside and Newcastle, is another feather in South Tyneside’s cultural cap. This superb venue celebrates the Borough’s rich Anglo Saxon history and the life of one of the country’s greatest scholars, the Venerable Bede.

Cultural life is at the heart of South Tyneside’s strategy to enhance the wellbeing and prosperity of the Borough and improve the lives of its residents. By using culture as a catalyst, South Tyneside are delivering real change in South Tyneside. Not only is culture helping to regenerate the Borough and safeguard the 3,500 jobs reliant on tourism, it is also showing how it can make a tangible difference to people’s lives.

The Commission Research & Development

We are looking to offer between two to three R & D commissions to artists or arts organisations who would like to develop exceptional new ideas that tell the story of The Customs House, and this area of South Tyneside, particularly its past in shipbuilding, coal mining and more recently in the arts. We are looking for new projects that could be researched and developed in partnership with the community.

The River on which we stand started to cut its course about 30 million years ago and has witnessed enormous change. Once Viking long-ships made their way upstream for winter where they would moor alongside the monastery they plundered, Roman vessels served a small fort which would eventually be the forerunner of a wall which would stretch across the whole country. The town itself grew from a fishing village to be changed by coal and the industrial revolution to a mighty river exporting coal from the many mines and building ships for war and commercial use.

But, the explosion of population also almost killed the river, a total depletion of dissolved oxygen was recorded on 16th October 1912. However now recovered, it is the best salmon river in England. The transformation and the river’s journey needs celebrating in a space that was once a coal staithes next to The Customs House where riots took place. The river is a metaphor for how our community is slowly recovering from the deindustrialisation of the area.

Whilst looking back at the river of ghosts the event must celebrate the tomorrow. In sight of the place where St Bede wrote the History of the English speaking people we now have The Centre for the Written Word celebrating today’s and tomorrow’s writers.
Community participation and celebration will mark the successful commission.

We have a total allocation of £10,000 towards this R & D phase and expect to support between two and three projects. We would expect a minimum of 25% of the budget requested and time to be spent on engagement / creative consultation with the community in a meaningful way, in particular with lower engaged audiences.

Due to the timing of the presentation of the final work we are open to all art forms but believe this project will lend itself particularly well to light installations. We would also like a number of experiences for the final work as we envisage that this work will be presented outside over a route of 0.3 miles from The Customs House to The Word in South Shields and have the potential to incorporate St.Hilda’s Pit Head.

The final presentations for the selected R&D projects should be completed by Thursday 7th February 2019. By the very nature of this project there does not need to be an ‘end product’ or event but there should be significant development of an artistic idea/s that have the potential to be ‘scaled up’. The final presentations will be made to a panel of community champions and project partners. The panel will then look to choose one of the projects to be developed into a larger scale project.

Through this R & D process we hope to achieve:

  • A high quality, ambitious art project with strong artistic integrity
  • A Project with a strong connection to our communities; responding to stories, everyday realities, places, people, histories, hopes and ambitions
  • Innovative approaches to building relationships and engaging with communities – in particular communities with low levels of cultural engagement – which result in an increase in the amount of people participating in arts and culture in South Tyneside
  • We are interested in artists / arts organisations who will gather stories from unusually sources so that the stories we hear are truly representative of this area
  • New opportunities for community members to get involved, participate and learn through doing art work that creates a high level of local excitement and pride, as well as attracting attention from beyond the area
  • Create a project with the potential to lever or unlock additional resources for arts and creative activity in the area in the future
  • Projects with the potential to feed in to the partners future programmes


  • Wednesday 24th October –Commission launched
  • Monday 5th November, 3pm and Wednesday 14th November, 6pm briefing session about project and visit to site at The Customs House. Please register your interest in this with Fiona Martin or 0191 427 8188
  • 10am on Monday 26th November – deadline for submitting proposals
  • Wednesday 5th December – Shortlisted artists invited for interview with commissioning partners & community champions.
  • Thursday 21st February 2019 – Presentations to panel for the two-three R & D projects

To apply please send the following in a single PDF document to including reference: 25th Anniversary R & D in your email title

1. Please describe your idea and approach to this Research and Development (max 750 words)

2. Please give a brief biography (max 200 words) of your work and for any key organisations and/or artists involved in your proposal, you can include links to previous work

3. Please describe your approach to building partnerships and developing meaningful engagement with the local people and groups, including people who do not currently engage in arts and culture (max 500 words)

4. Please attach a proposed timeline (contact days/workshops with the communities, research & development)

5. Please attach a detailed budget, maximum budget is £10,000 to cover between twothree projects 6. Please provide two referees who have commissioned you for previous projects who we can contact

6. Selection

Through the application process we will assess the following –
1. Quality and ambition of the artistic approach

2. Artistic track record of the company and or individuals

3. Quality of approach to building partnerships and developing engagement with the local communities

4. Feasibility and deliverability

5. Value for money, applications will be strengthened when they can demonstrate match funding both in kind and cash. For the idea that is selected in February weighting will be given to artists and arts organisations that can bring additional financial resources to the large scale commission in October. At the moment the larger budget available is £40,000 for the overall project which we are looking to increase with a range of funding bids, but preference will be given to artists and arts organisations who can be part of this process to increase the funding available for the project.

Contact details
For further information, please contact: / 0191 427 8188 or / 0191 427 8197.

Application deadline is 10am on Monday 26th November.