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News At the start line... Great North Greats

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 of August.

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 Heart Foundation.

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 north east.

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 North East.

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 2014.

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.



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