Thursday, 28 May 2009


Futurescope and the first big picture might come as a surprise to people who see it for the first time and knew nothing about it. So it’s maybe important to describe how it came about. It has been quite a long time in the making.

In 2001 Marchday who now own Lingfield Point invested in an opportunity for an artist to light their seventeen story office block building ‘Centre North East’ in Middlesbrough. The company had acquired the building after it had lain empty for years after its biggest tenant the Secretary of State quit the building.

Marchday spent millions re-cabling the building and equipping it as a call centre but were worried that its visibility in Middlesbrough had fallen away. At that time I was approached by what was then Cleveland Arts (now Tees Valley Arts) and Arts & Business on the recommendation of Commissions North to manage a process to recruit a lighting artist to create an innovative lighting scheme for the building.

This process lead to the appointment of Ron Haselden whose proposal called ‘Rose’ (a new pink neon colour) saw neon strips installed through the seventeen stories of the tower. Although the project attracted a lot of comment, and not all of it favourable, the building looked for the first time in a long time as if it were open for business and shortly afterwards it was let to Garlands.
Centre North East now provides an important employment site for Middlesbrough and has been a contributor to the regeneration of the town centre. Marchday were pleased with the result, felt that the artwork had supported their investment and helped make their building a source of conspicuous interest.

As we were completing the commission in Middlesbrough they brought me to their newly acquired property in Darlington, Lingfield Point. I remember the visit well, because I could not see how anything could be done with it. It was so vast and so derelict. The sheer scale of it and the knowledge that so many people (10,000) had been employed there was astonishing as was the scale of its dereliction.

We discussed the idea of trying to raise the visibility of the site from the A66 by creatively lighting the eastern perimeter but I knew it would not work because the fields between the A66 and the site were in separate ownership and unless we could get the owners to cut their hedges and keep them low all our work and effort would be wasted!

The site was vast. I have never been under such a big roof and although a lot of it has been remodelled now I still remember a ‘secret’ but vast acreage under one roof let to British American Tobacco.

I also remember walking round with Marchday looking at the ‘Beehive’ which was then derelict and it felt like I was walking round a place built during the war although it is actually a bit newer than that. It was like a mix between a massive RAF base and Pontin’s. I loved the ‘Art Deco’ grandeur of the HQ building and took photo’s of the beautiful lamps in the main entrance!

I came away with absolutely no idea of how anything could be done… and that…. 8 or 9 years ago was the starting point for Futurescope!

Since then I have continued to work as a public art consultant in Middlesbrough and have regularly driven past it looking across the fields and thinking about it - still not seeing what could be done for a couple of years and also feeling a bit embarrassed that I had been presented with this opportunity and failed to make anything of it.

During this time I worked on other projects in the north of the UK and in Scotland and then in 2007 I saw that along the line of the former Stockton to Darlington railway a new road was being built. I thought about it and I realised that it changed everything about the site.

This new road might replace Yarm Road as a new gateway to Darlington from the East. Instead of being the last thing you saw in Darlington (and that from across a field) Lingfield Point had become the first thing you would see on your way in.

I wrote to Marchday and asked if I could have another look at it and they were kind enough to say yes.

When I went back to the site everything about it had changed. When I first went there were only a handful of caretaker staff now at least 2,500 people work on the site. Big companies like Capita and the Student Loan Company had taken significant leases. The derelict theatre had been completely refurbished and was now a constituency office for Alan Milburn MP it is also let out to some great creative businesses, architects and so on.

Marchday had transformed the McMullen Road end adding colour renders to the walls, naming and segmenting the buildings into letting units. The site was really attractive and bit by bit I could see that by doing business it was being brought back to life. I was (and I still am) astonished at the scale of this achievement.

However, all the work that had gone into the McMullen Road end made it look like a ‘front of house’ and the back of the site with buildings like the Turbine Hall around the area of the Soap Dock on the Eastern side still feels untouched by regeneration. However this back end had somehow now become the front of the site because the new road opened up access to it on the approach to Darlington and this created a great opportunity for more development.
Marchday talked about their vision for the site in the future as a live/work environment and I came away feeling that we had lots to think about. I think it is important to say this because people often think that creative projects can be commissioned just like that. This one had plenty of false starts and has taken eight years to get together.