who we are

Ray Spencer MBE
Executive Director

What I do…

As Executive Director I am responsible to a board of Trustees and I am charged with implementing the strategic aims and goals of the organisation. My main role now is leadership. I am involved in all aspects of delivery from the mixed bag of programme and participation to the day to day concerns of running a busy venue which is open for 15 hours a day for 362 days of the year and employs 70 staff. I also write direct and appear in the Customs House Pantomime.

How did I get here…

I was training as an accountant but the draw of the stage was never far away. Eventually I left accountancy and gained a BA Hons in Creative and Performing Arts. I tried my hand at acting with some limited success. I then trained as a Lecturer and taught Performing Arts for 15 years. However, thanks to an enlightened Principle I was encouraged to continue to perform and produced a number of shows with writer Tom Kelly and musician John Miles. Many of our shows were produced at The Customs House. An opportunity arose to apply for the Directors job and I was lucky enough to be offered the post. I have been in this role since January 2000.

Emma Horsman
Cultural Development Manager

What I do…

I oversee and co-ordinate a range of programmes within the Cultural Development department.

I advocate and promote Artsmark to schools and Arts Award to young people, their advisers and people wishing to train as advisers. I am a trainer for both.

I facilitated the Creative Partnerships programme working alongside schools, Creative Agents and Creative Practitioners and we continue to build on the legacy of this programme.

I have a strong commitment to children, young people and the arts and believe everyone has the right to take part in arts and culture.

How did I get here…

I graduated in English Literature from Newcastle University in 2002. My first job was with the Aimhigher Initiative where I promoted Further Education and Higher Education opportunities to young people.

After a year out travelling, I got a job as an Events Organiser with Event International who specialise in large scale outdoor events. Following this I worked at the Arts Council in Newcastle as Assistant Officer, Performing Arts & Literature, before joining The Customs House in October 2008.


Fiona Kelly
Cultural Development Officer

What I do…

I organise projects for schools/education settings across North and South Tyneside, in a range of art forms including new media, dance, drama and creative careers, and facilitate CPD opportunities in the arts for teachers and staff. I take young people aged 11-25 through Arts Award Bronze, Silver and Gold Levels in formal and informal learning settings. I co-deliver training for Arts Award Bronze and Silver Levels, with Emma. I am also a trainer for Discover and Explore, and train artists and teachers to become advisers to take children aged five and over on their first Arts Award journey.

The Customs House are a Good Practice Centre for Arts Award for 2013-14, and we are thrilled that we can share our work with others, and to support advisers and young people.

I run our youth theatre with Alice Blundell, and facilitate and direct drama with and for young people. I get to see the positive impact that the arts can have upon the lives of young people and how they respond and change due to the work that we do.


How did I get here…

I love drama/theatre and I have been involved in youth theatre, firstly as a participant and later as a facilitator, for 20 years. I graduated in 2006 with an MA in Cultural Management, and I have worked at Gateshead Council Arts Development Team and Northern Film and Media in an ‘arts in education’ and administrative capacity before joining The Customs House Team in 2008.

Esen Kaya
Curator - Visual Arts

What I do…

I programme the visual arts at Customs House which includes curatorial, commercial and delivering education provision linked to contemporary fine art practice where possible. I curate a rolling programme of around seven exhibitions per year in the main Gallery of work by regional, national and international artists.

How did I get here…

Having graduated from Bretton Hall College, Leeds University with a First Class in Fine Art Sculpture, my career in the arts began. I went from undertaking lots of voluntary and freelance work at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Wakefield Art Gallery to becoming Newlyn Art Gallery’s Education Officer for nearly eight years. This gave me the essential knowledge and experience I needed to understand arts development and practice in contemporary venues and lead me to become Visual Arts Development Officer in 2006 at Customs House and then Curator – Visual Arts in 2010.

Daniel Clifford
Cultural Development Assistant

What I do…

I support the Cultural Development team across a range of programmes, with responsibility for creative enrichment in schools, ‘Raising the Bar’- a Youth Music-funded programme, CH-ARTED resources, and social media. I am also an advocate for Artsmark. I also take young people aged 11 to 25 through Bronze and Silver Arts Award levels. I am committed to widening participation in arts and cultural activities amongst the region’s young people, creating projects that allow success in art forms that can appear unattainable.

How did I get here…

I have experience working in a variety of art forms – including theatre, film, music and comic books. I founded and chaired South Tyneside Young Filmmakers, which met at The Customs House between 2004 and 2007. I graduated from Northumbria University in 2009 with a First in Drama and Scriptwriting, and began delivering freelance workshops using comic books and scriptwriting to improve the educational and cultural experiences of young people. Coordinating a number of voluntary and freelance cultural activities for eight years, as well as three years as a Youth Work Assistant at The CAVE, has given me a solid foundation to build on as part of the Cultural Development team.

Sign up to our newsletter and stay up to date with our latest news, resources & events!

twitter facebook