An arts project running in Sunderland and South Tyneside has scooped a top international honour.
The Cultural Spring, which works to increase participation in the arts on Wearside and South Tyneside, triumphed over projects from around the world to win a category in the prestigious Leading Cultural Destinations (LCD) Awards.
The project, funded by Arts Council England, saw off competition from New Zealand and Europe in the awards’ Soft Power Destinations Cultural Activation category.
Cultural Spring Director Emma Horsman picked up the award at a glittering awards night at The Langham Hotel in London.
She said: "We were really excited to be shortlisted in the awards, and honoured to be in such company. But to actually win was amazing.
"We’ve worked hard in our wards to reach people, estates and communities who don’t have a history of engaging in the arts. Winning awards gives us the confidence to believe we’re on the right track and that our work in Sunderland and South Tyneside is being recognised outside of the boroughs."
The LCD Awards - known as the Oscars for museums and cultural destinations - saw winners chosen by a jury of 11 established cultural gurus from around the world.
Now in its third year, the awards recognise institutions, organisations, and cities that have provided exemplary contributions to local cultural life and showcase emerging destinations.
The Cultural Spring was launched in 2013, a three-year project funded by ACE’s Creative People and Place Fund. A bid for a further three years of funding was recently submitted to ACE.
Graeme Thompson, Chair of The Cultural Spring and Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Sunderland, said: "When the University joined with the Customs House and the MAC Trust to create The Cultural Spring, we always knew it had the capacity to be transformational.
"Its continued success proves there is an authentic appetite for arts, culture and performance across places like Sunderland and South Tyneside. And that relatively modest investment by innovative organisations like Arts Council England can have an extraordinary impact on communities out of step with mainstream culture."
Paul Callaghan, founder of the MAC Trust, added: "I’m delighted for the small and talented team that delivers The Cultural Spring on behalf of Arts Council England and the three local partners.
"The project’s intention was to radically change the way people in Sunderland and South Tyneside consume, experience and make art, and while there is still more to be done, The Cultural Spring has achieved so much in a relatively short space of time.
"This fantastic accolade is recognition of the hard work that has gone on within our wards, and we very much hope to continue making a difference to communities in our two boroughs if we’re fortunate enough to get Phase Two funding of the project.
"The Cultural Spring and the MAC Trust are now very much part of the fabric of the culture sector in Sunderland and South Tyneside, and we’re sure this accolade will be noted when it comes to judging time for the City of Culture 2021."
Ray Spencer, Executive Director of the Customs House, said: "It’s incredible to think that an idea to get people from Sunderland and South Tyneside engaged in the arts has won international recognition. The Customs House is a proud partner of the project and I’d like to warmly congratulate the Cultural Spring team.
"This award will mean so much to the people of both boroughs and hopefully will help to raise aspirations and encourage even more engagement."
The Cultural Spring aims to increase arts participation across Sunderland and South Tyneside and its three partners are the University of Sunderland; The Customs House in South Shields and the Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Trust.
The project is working in five Sunderland wards (Red House, Castletown, Southwick, Fulwell and Roker/St Peters) and five South Tyneside wards (Biddick and All Saints, Boldon Colliery, Cleadon and East Boldon, Whitburn and Marsden and Whiteleas).