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News A day with the Greats...

The latest blog post from Great North Run Culture intern Alicia Caroll, where she talks about our Great North Greats exhibition in South Shields, Jarra Jim and Street Scientists - exciting times!...

It has been nearly three weeks since our Great North Greats: ordinary people, extraordinary achievements exhibitionopened to the public in South Shields and since that day the Great North Run Culture Team has seen our plans unfold and our million dreams come true. However, since I’m at risk of jumping ahead of myself I’ll leave all that for another post and instead focus on one at a time.

The Great North Greats exhibition, created in Partnership with Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, opened on a windy Saturday as the South Shields High Street was just beginning to bustle. Our big blue banner and shiny pavement arrows announced our arrival as a new attraction on the street and if that didn’t inspire some interest, there were a few historic faces (and loud voices) roaming to capture an audience.  Lord William Armstrong, Joseph Swan, Henry Clasper and Rachel Parsons came to life for the day to engage with our audiences and disclose their fascinating histories in person throughout the exhibition. Our ‘Greats’ were present by a professional team of costumed interpreters and re-enactors named ‘The Time Bandits‘ who are based in the North East and focus on its rich history. They were overflowing with knowledge about their characters, which only added to the spectacle.

The exhibition itself was intended to inform and inspire in preparation for our Million events still to come, reminding the public of the truly great names that began as ordinary people of the North East. Along with showing our vast history of greatness, the exhibition also included oral histories and digital stories from previous runners of the Great North Run and their achievements, proving the run to be such a special event. Every year thousands of runners gather to run the half marathon, an impressive feat for any amateur runner but more importantly, our runners collectively raise millions of pounds for charities across the world, not only achieving amazing results but also making a real difference to other people’s lives. Great North Greats reminds us of the North East’s industrial and sporting achievements but it primarily celebrates the people (present and future) that continually prove themselves to be truly great!

One of those people to attend the exhibition opening was ‘Jarra Jim’ a local hero who gathered himself a crowd as soon as he entered the doors. Originating from Teesside, I, like many others had never heard of this ‘celebrity’ up until he arrived at the scene and even then his identity remained a mystery to me until one of his many admirers called out: "Don’t you know that’s Jarra Jim?!”. Once you know Jim's Story (he tells it very well) it is easy to see why Jarrow and indeed, the region, is so proud of him. A Dunkirk veteran and 93 years of age, Jim will have completed his 28th Bupa Great North Run this year, joining the thousands in the exciting day. Upon asking him of his training, Jim explained that he ONLY ran 10 miles the weekend before, and in his words "hadn’t really done much training”. ‘Jarra Jim’s’ story is recorded in the exhibitions oral histories and you can hear his retelling of his years following the war and what it means to him to run the Great North Run time and time again, even when the doctors told him it couldn't be done!

Another attraction to the opening day was a visit from Newcastle University's Street Scientists, who set up inside the exhibition to educate our audiences, old and young about the power of science along with a few brain-teasers and dabbling in mind reading! This, in combination with the chance to colour your own version of the ‘Greats’, meant our younger spectators quickly became enthralled by the show and proved that history and science can be made accessible to any age, as long as you’re prepared to dress as a Victorian gentleman, or attempt to get a toilet seat off a piece of rope without letting go of the ends! 

Even though the run is over, this year’s culture programme continues, as over the next year Great North Greats is set to tour the course of the run, growing in size and content as it progresses until its final show in September 2015. This means that there are hundreds of opportunities for you to see the exhibition and at every venue there will be something new to keep you following it along. One of these is a piece of artwork by our artist in residence Matt Stokes which is produced in the form of a newspaper, at every venue there will be a new section of the document to pick up, and so by the end of the year you will have the entire collection!

You can visit the Great North Greats Exhibition in South Shields until 18th October at 105 Kings Street and then see where it will be next at



Alicia Carroll is our Great North Run Culture intern and has been working with the team over the summer months. Alicia is going into her 3rd year of a Fine Art degree at Northumbria University. 
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