Photo from Jack Drum Arts

Memories from a very Royal summer (main photo from Jack Drum Arts)

Following the sad news of the death of Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II, chief executive Michelle Cooper reflects on memories of a very Royal summer.

The Platinum Jubilee was celebrated with gusto across County Durham and Tees Valley.

Projects across local communities came up with brilliant ideas to mark the occasion, from banner making to dancing, sack racing to tug o’ wars: turning June into a blaze of red, white and blue.

Jubilee celebrations

For me it was a brilliant chance for community groups to celebrate after the grinding hardship of the pandemic, to invite everyone, aged nought to ninety, out into the sunshine for a good knee’s up.

Our part in this? To manage the money from Arts Council England and our supporters for the Let’s Create Fund, and make grants across County Durham and Tees Valley to support all these wonderful plans.

The groups we funded sent in hundreds of photos, and the smiles said it all. Many made their projects a chance to bring generations together, like Building Self-Belief, and to learn about the history of the Queen’s astonishing 70-year-long reign.

It brought a lot of happiness, and gave people the chance to make good memories that will last a lifetime: no doubt making this year extra bittersweet for many.

When I heard the sad news last week, I could only marvel at Her Majesty’s leadership and constancy through those 70 years. I am in awe of what the Queen did for so many decades, and through such momentous change. It feels right to thank her for that service. The Queen was patron of 800 charities in total, a quite staggering number of organisations that will have benefitted greatly from her care.

And now we welcome King Charles. Earlier in the year I was finally able to collect my MBE from 2020, for services to the community during the pandemic, and it was the then Prince of Wales overseeing my MBE investiture in July.

It was an incredible day at Windsor Castle, especially as I shared it with my daughter. And of course I did not miss my chance to talk to the Prince of Wales about a local charity we both support! He lit up, and for those few moments, he made me feel very special indeed. Given that he had already spoken to so many people that day, I thought that was quite a feat.

Looking back, I think that is what we all crave, to feel like we have been seen, and that we made a difference. To be included and invited to the celebration. I think Her Majesty did that beautifully for so many in our region.