FEEDBACK: ‘Remarkable’ Derby is richer than you think

Reader Mike Wheeler responds to a recent TaitMail

Thank you, on behalf of Derby’s cultural community, for the positive things you said in your article, “Citizen Culture”, about Derby, Déda and Festé. It was good to read an acknowledgement of what has been achieved, presented to a wider readership.

You described Derby as an “unremarkable Midlands industrial town”, but the city’s cultural life has never been richer. 

Our arthouse cinema, QUAD, this year celebrates its tenth anniversary. Housing two screens (plus a smaller space, The Box, which can also be used for screenings), exhibition space, gallery and BFI Mediatheque, it has become an indispensable part of Derby cultural life, and has attracted actors of the calibre of Paddy Considine and the late John Hurt as patrons. It organises the biennial photography exhibition FORMAT, using venues all over the city centre, and which has built up an international reputation.

Image shows Derby’s QUAD

Derby Book Festival was started by just two enthusiasts drawing up initial plans over coffee. The first festival was staged in 2015, and its success has been phenomenal. Speakers have included Sebastian Faulks, Carol Ann Duffy, Penelope Lively, and Robert Winston. Again, events are held in several city venues.

Derby Folk Festival has just celebrated its 12th year. This, too began as a local project, and now attracts visitors from over a wide area, and has seen some of the starriest names in the folk world performing. Outdoor displays by various dance teams give the Festival a very visible presence in the city centre. This year, for the first time, it was extended from three to four days.

Derby Theatre has experienced a complete turn-round from the financially perilous days of seven or eight years ago, and has been described by leading theatre critic Lyn Gardner as “increasingly the most crucial theatre in the region because of its emphasis on learning, nurturing and nourishing”, thanks to a great extent to its pioneering relationship with Derby University.

Our resident professional orchestra, Sinfonia Viva, gives an annual open-air concert in one of the city’s parks, regularly attracting audiences of around 30,000. This is in addition to its regular concerts, in Derby and around the region, and a considerable amount of work with children and young people, not least through its annual schools residency projects. In 2011 it was the host orchestra for the Association of British Orchestra’s annual conference.

Derby Chamber Music, about to begin its 21st season, was, like the Book Festival, started by a few enthusiasts, and has built up a loyal following – a success story when so many similar organisations around the country have been facing closure.  

Derby Museum and Art Gallery holds, among other things, a wealth of paintings and drawings by Joseph Wright, celebrated for works such as The Orrery, and for his association with members of the Lunar Society.

I’ve not begun to mention the wealth of amateur activity, not least in music and theatre, or the range of events promoted by the city council’s cultural arm, Derby LIVE, but that’s probably enough to be going on with. 

Do visit Derby again, and see for yourself just how much there is happening.


Mike Wheeler.

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