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Mather & Co tells The Story of County Durham

Mather & Co has overseen the design for Mount Oswald Manor, a Grade 2 listed house dating back to around 1800 in County Durham.

The venue has been renovated and expanded to create The Story, a new cultural, heritage and registration venue which is now open to the public.

Created by Durham County Council, The Story serves as a portal to the history of County Durham and its people. By bringing together five historic collections of records and objects for the first time, The Story presents thousands of years of everyday life in the county.

The development isn’t just a building; it merges services and collections into a single location in Durham City for the first time. It includes the Durham County Record Office, Local Studies Reference Collection, Durham Light Infantry Collection and Archive, Historic Environment Record, Registration Services, and the Historic Registration Service in one redeveloped facility.

The Story also includes a free, interactive exhibition space that shares the fascinating stories within the collections, and a café with views across the grounds.

Mather & Co’s responsibilities included exhibition design, technical detailing, interpretative planning and design, conceptual thematic and story development, object co-curation with the collection teams, graphic design and artwork, temporary exhibition design, café design, and interpretative landscape design. The agency began working on the project in 2019, overcoming challenges such as the pandemic, Brexit, and construction industry inflation.

Paul Lee, design director at Mather & Co, said: “Since the first concepts were produced back in 2019, and despite the challenges faced over the recent years in the heritage and arts industry, there has been a strong drive from the team to deliver this project for the people of Durham. The results are testimony to their efforts, clear vision, unwavering enthusiasm, and commitment that has made working on this project a delight for us here at Mather & Co.”

The main ground floor exhibition is a thematically led exploration of the stories and collections, split across eight zones and designed alongside the main café area. It utilises interactives, digital media, and collections to celebrate the lives and stories of the people in the county

On the first level, visitors can find Search and Discover, a space blending exhibition and archive exploration, research, and access to a collections room and more in-depth research facilities. Interactive digital stations provide detailed access to some of the collections and records, with floor staff available to assist with search requests. Level 1 also features relaxed and formal seating areas for research, along with interpretative linking that connects the surrounding landscape with the building, using the stories, archives, and narratives around the grounds.

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “The Story aims to shine a light on the people, places and events that have shaped County Durham, bringing history to life and encouraging people to discover more. That’s why the exhibition space and research areas are such key parts of the venue. The interactive features, eye-catching displays and audio and visual devices allow people of all ages to engage with the collections in new and exciting ways.”

The Story focuses on working people and everyday families, providing new methods of storytelling that complement the existing heritage offer. There is a strong digital focus, developed in partnership with a wide range of client stakeholders, consultants, and Durham County Council specialists. The aim is to create a central gathering point for memories, stories, and knowledge about the county, creating a legacy for the future.

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