Cookson saves art gallery

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The Independent Online
The writer Dame Catherine Cookson has saved the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle from closure, the day after a decision was made to withdraw its funding.

The best-selling author of The Black Candle, The Mallen Streak and Feathers in the Fire, who has sold more than 100million copies in 17 languages, has pledged pounds 50,000 a year for the next five years in order to keep the gallery open.

On Monday night the university council decided to cease funding the gallery, which has been in existence since 1926 and contains works by, among others, Kurt Schwitters, Goya and Francis Bacon.

The university ascribed its decision to budgetary constraints. It has to make cuts of 6 per cent across the next three years and closing the gallery would make a saving of approximately pounds 45,000.

James Wright, the vice-chancellor, said: "I am most delighted with this rapid and remarkable response by Dame Catherine Cookson which sets the university well on the way to securing the future of the Hatton Gallery." The university now aims to raise pounds 100,000 a year to create sufficient funds to "revitalise" the gallery as a "vibrant contribution to the region's arts provision".

The decision to close the gallery had been a controversial one, with supporters of the gallery claiming that the benefits of keeping it open far outweighed any benefits made by the saving. Bill Varley, a fine art lecturer who helped head the campaign, had described closing the gallery as "like having a medical school and saying you're removing the operating theatres."

Yesterday he was overjoyed at the news that it would remain open. "God bless her, it's the most marvellous, generous thing," he said. "This is exactly a five-year breathing space to get the thing back on track and attract lottery funding," Mr Varley added.

It is the latest of many donations made by the bedridden Dame Catherine, who suffers from a blood disorder and is nearly blind. She has given money to the university before, to the library and medical school.

Last month the renowned benefactor, who at one point created her own charitable foundation, donated pounds 50,000 to ex-servicemen who suffered illness after being involved with nuclear tests. The 90-year-old novelist made the gift to help to fund an independent study after learning of the veterans' distrust of government-sponsored health surveys.

Last year she helped to revive an independent school that closed because of falling pupil numbers, donating more than pounds 40,000 towards the cost of leasing a new site for Charters Ancaster College, after parents wrote to her appealing for help.