Castlegate House art gallery is a cool, serene space, housed in a stately and sizeable Georgian townhouse.

Pictures hang on the walls, figures are displayed in cases.

In a few months time, the gallery will be a showcase for hope.

It will be exhibiting a range of artwork that will be competing for a new, major national art prize and, at the same time, raising the profile and funds for teenage mental health care.

The Castlegate Prize is launched this month by Steve and Christine Swallow who hope that, in a few years time, it will be regarded just as highly as the Turner Prize and the BP Portrait Award.

The couple are offering the winner a £10,000 prize – and are aiming to raise thousands for YoungMinds, the UK’s leading charity for young people’s mental health.

The first-ever prize is based on the theme of hope: contestants have to create a work inspired by the word. All the £20 entry fees will be donated to YoungMinds,

The idea developed over a bottle of Friday night wine.

Steve explains: “I said ‘It would be great if we created an art prize, not just regional but national, and teamed up with a charity so that all the entry fees went to that charity’.

“We started talking about what charity. Youth mental health was very close to our hearts and we spoke to a couple. The second we spoke to was YoungMinds in London.”

“I had this idea that we would link the whole thing in with an inspirational word that the artists should use as their inspiration and that word should tie in with the charity, so the whole thing knits together.

“The next morning, I put a Facebook posting out and that ended up getting forwarded on and shared dozens and dozens if not several hundred times and ended up with three or four thousand views.”

Steve and Christine chose the charity because they have a daughter who is at university and a son who is preparing for A-levels.

“We have seen our children and their friends go through exams,” says Steve. “I don’t remember feeling under that pressure - or my friends feeling under that amount of pressure - that teenagers seem to be under now.

“When we went to see YoungMinds they are a much smaller charity than Mind but with a much more specific focus and their enthusiasm for what we were looking to do was wonderful.

The charity not only supports youngsters with mental health issues but also their families.

There’s no knowing how much the new prize could raise for the charity, but the Christine and Steve are hoping it could be thousands.

“This could be a sizeable contribution to their finances and their ability to help people,” says Christine. “We are going to do it every two years and there may well be additional prizes, but we wanted to keep the first one simple.

“It’s as big as the totals for the BP award and the Turner Prize – but this one awards all the money to the winner.

“It is wholly possible that we could get several thousand entries.

“If we just got a thousand entries at £20 an entry, £20,000 to YoungMinds is a huge amount.

“The money is not going to us, effectively you are donating £20 to YoungMinds. The psychological barrier is knocked down, even if you are not a finalist, your money is still going to a good cause.”

YoungMinds works with young people throughout the UK, campaigning for change and raising awareness so that all young people get the help and support they need for their mental health. The charity also runs a free parents helpline which supports parents and carers who are worried about a young person.

“YoungMinds is a truly excellent charity whose work brings hope to young people - and their families who may be going through difficult times too,” says Steve.

Situated just across the road from Cockermouth castle, the couple have owned the gallery for seven and a half years.

It has a national reputation - no mean feat when you consider the UK art market is almost exclusively based in and around London.

The couple specialise in 20th century and contemporary British artists such as David Hockney, Sheila Fell, Frank Auerbach, Grayson Perry, Leon Kossoff, Winifred Nicholson, and Norman Cornish.

They also champion young talent such as Alex Hain, William Reinsch and Louis Appleby.

They exhibited five pieces by Cornish at the British Art Fair at the Saatchi gallery in October

They will be exhibiting five early pieces by Grayson Perry as well as other artists at the London Art Fair in January.

The Castlegate Prize launches on November 23.

The judges will be the Christine and Steve, with guests Eileen Cooper, the first female keeper of the Royal Academy and head of the RA schools; Cumbrian artist Martin Greenland, who won the John Moores Paining Prize in 2006; and ‘adopted’ Cumbrian, broadcaster and writer Stuart Maconie.

Susan says: “Eileen is in her 60s and more mature but she is used to dealing with younger artists in their 20s and bringing on new talent.”

There is no ‘type’ of art that Steve and Christine prefer. He says: “We don’t show artists - and represent artists - because we think their work will sell. We do it because we really like that artist’s work.”

They will winnow the entries down to 60 before the full panel sits together to review the 60 digitally and reduce it to the 30 finalists.

They will be shown at the gallery in an exhibition and the winner will be judged during the shows.

All the works will be for sale, so the artist will benefit as well.

“If we can get not just the artists but lots of people travelling up to Cockermouth for the show that will be good for the town.

“Yes, we will probably get far more people through the door if we rented space in London for this, and get more press, but we are a Cumbrian gallery and want to encourage [people] to see how good Cockermouth is and to see the gallery.

“If future incarnations of this, every two years, become incredibly popular it will first and foremost be a Cockermouth event.”

n Entries for the first Castlegate Prize open on November 23 and close on February 14.

The winner will be revealed at the gallery on May 2, with the best 30 works exhibited for the following three weeks.

The criteria is painting, drawing and mixed media designed for wall display, inspired by the word ‘hope’. Entrants have to be over 16 years and UK residents. We can’t have our own artists applying.

For more information, including entry details, visit