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Nick Barley joins National Poetry Centre as its first director

Culture

Nick Barley joins National Poetry Centre as its first director

The trustees of the forthcoming National Poetry Centre have announced today that the acclaimed literary leader Nick Barley will be joining the organisation as its first director.

Nick enjoys an international reputation as a cultural leader and events programmer.

Poet Laureate and NPC trustee Simon Armitage:

The NPC is my flagship Laureate initiative, a groundbreaking home and headquarters for one of our nation’s proudest, oldest and most democratic of art forms. We want to share the benefits of poetry – which is language at its keenest – across all ages, social groups and cultures. With his keen understanding of the value of poetry and literature in all its forms, Nick Barley seems tailor-made for the role.”

Nick Barley was Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival from 2009 until 2023, overseeing almost continuous growth during that period. In 2020, during the Covid pandemic, he successfully pioneered a hybrid approach to delivering events which resulted in online audiences in almost every country around the world. Nick was chair of the International Booker Prize judges in 2017 and has been a trustee of the Booker Prize Foundation since 2018.

He is currently a Professor in Practice at Durham University. He was awarded the Chevalier of the order of merit by the French Government in 2018 for his services to literature and an honorary doctorate by the University of Edinburgh in 2023. During Nick’s tenure at the Edinburgh International Book Festival he has programmed hundreds of events with poets at all stages of their careers, supporting the emergence of talented Yorkshire-based poets including Helen Mort, Zaffar Kunial, Kayo Chingonyi and Andrew Macmillan. He has also brought world-renowned names to perform poetry in Edinburgh, including Seamus Heaney, Alice Oswald, PJ Harvey, Ocean Vuong, Joy Harjo and Jackie Kay as well as poets laureate including Andrew Motion, Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage.

This important appointment signals a new and exciting phase for the National Poetry Centre, which will be based in Leeds and is the brainchild of Yorkshire-based Poet Laureate Simon Armitage. The centre will be the lasting legacy of Simon’s tenure – a national hub promoting poetry, literacy, oracy and learning for people from all cultures and backgrounds.

Nick will be responsible for taking forward ambitious plans for a sustainable headquarters building in Leeds as well as a programme of events and activities that will reach right across the UK – inspiring people to engage with poetry and offering a platform for self-expression regardless of background, language or experience.

The news has been welcomed by Darren Henley OBE, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, who said: “Arts Council England is delighted to hear of the appointment of Nick Barley as the first Director of the National Poetry Centre. We have been proud to support the development of the NPC which will help cement Leeds’ place as a nationally significant centre for literature and be a lasting legacy of Simon Armitage’s period as Poet Laureate.”

NPC chair Ruth Pitt:

“We are thrilled that Nick will be joining us to turn Simon’s incredible vision into reality. All over the country millions of people write poetry at some point in their lives, countless thousands enjoy poetry groups and classes and many more study and publish poetry at all levels. Yet despite the huge contribution that poetry makes to our nation’s heritage and culture, it’s never had a dedicated national headquarters of its own. We’re going to change that – and Nick is the perfect person for the job.”

The project has been made possible thanks to the support of a range of partners including Arts Council England, the University of Leeds, Leeds City Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, all of whom have backed the idea since Simon first shared his vision shortly after taking over as Laureate in 2018.

The centre received a vital boost in April of this year when Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, announced that his department would be contributing £5 million to support the capital development of the selected building – the currently disused Trinity St David’s Church on Woodhouse Lane in the heart of a major regeneration area in the centre of Leeds.

The University of Leeds owns the Grade II listed heritage site, also well known across Yorkshire as the former Halo nightclub. The National Poetry Centre is working with the university to breathe life back into the iconic landmark building to create a new public space by late 2027 or early 2028.

Nick Barley:

“I was born and raised in Yorkshire and I’m thrilled to be returning home to lead in the delivery of this genuinely ground-breaking project, which builds on four years of inspiring preparatory work by Simon and the trustees. Leeds is one of the most vibrant and culturally ambitious cities in the UK right now: it’s the perfect location geographically for an HQ and Yorkshire already enjoys a vibrant poetry scene. I’m honoured to have the opportunity to work with writers and readers – to create a nationally significant building that Leeds will be proud of, and to bring poetry alive for people across the UK.”

Designed to be open and accessible to all, the completed centre will be a vibrant space that welcomes children, young people and families as well as world-class academics and poets of all disciplines. With a proposed 250 seat performance space along with a library, workshops, study pods, offices, café, bookshop, open mic area and much more, it will be a unique local, regional, national and international destination for events, prize-giving, creativity, co-working, study, fun and relaxation in a challenging world.

The centre will amplify the work of the many poetry groups, residential centres, schools, courses, publishers and of course poets that already exist across the UK. “To steal a phrase coined by one of our Arts Council colleagues, we are a nation of poets in search of a home,” says Simon Armitage, “and the National Poetry Centre will be that home.”

www.nationalpoetrycentre.org.uk

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