Since starting work on the Great North Run Million project
at the beginning of July, it has been full speed ahead on the Great North
Greats exhibition, making sure it was ready to open in South Shields by the end
When researching the content for the exhibition, the
remarkable enthusiasm for the Bupa Great North Run in the North East came as no
surprise to me. Both of my parents have completed the Run (Mum is in the picture above) on various occasions,
as well as my sister Amy, who took part last year in support of the British
I have seen first-hand how the characteristics needed to
complete the Run, determination, energy, industriousness and healthy living are
present in every participant who makes that 13.1 mile pilgrimage from Newcastle
to South Shields. However, what did come as a surprise was exploring how these
qualities have always been a feature of life in the North East and have defined
some of its most famous and successful residents.
The Great North Greats exhibition uses the one millionth
finish of the Bupa Great North Run as a starting point to explore what makes
the North East of England great, looking at great achievements in industry,
business and sport.
Once the research for the exhibition got in full swing, it
was a challenge to decide what content to include and what to leave out as
endless links between industry and sport began to appear, along with tales of
world leading success overlapping with everyday triumphs in communities in the
When investigating the celebrated acts of philanthropy of
Lord William Armstrong, it was hard not to think of his charitable efforts
alongside the outstanding fundraising ability of the Bupa Great North Run.
Similarly, when analysing the life of Rachel Parsons,
pioneering industrialist and important campaigner for women's rights, it was
tempting to wonder what she would have made of the Bupa Great North Run. Just
as Parsons proved that women were just as capable as men in the world of
industry, the Bupa Great North Run has been revolutionary for how women's
athletics is viewed in the north east. Today, the event has almost equal
numbers of male and female runners, with those running for fun just as welcome
as serious competitors.
Throughout the research for the exhibition, my attention was
constantly pulled back to the River Tyne, the iconic stretch of water that was
central to the Great North Run Million opening ceremony last week. From the
heyday of rowing on the Tyne in the 1800s to the golden age of shipbuilding in
the Twentieth Century, the river has always been a central part of life in the
The Great North Greats exhibition looks at famous faces and
revered names, but it also explores the collective spirit of the North East. It
is not down to chance that the Bupa Great North Run was the first event of its
kind to reach the milestone of one million finishes. There is no other region
in the world that has embraced an event with such collective enthusiasm and
good will. The exhibition explores what makes this region so special and
celebrates its continuing success.
The Great North Greats exhibition is open at 105 King
Street, South Shields, NE33 1SE, from Saturday 30 August - Saturday 11 October
Throughout the year, the exhibition will continue along the
route of the Great North Run, appearing at a variety of venues in the region.
As the exhibition progresses, look out for a series of blog
posts exploring some of the famous names and characters that appear in the
exhibition in greater detail.