Great Exhibition will shine publicity spotlight on North East this summer


Blog by Graham Robb, Senior Partner Recognition PR


This year any doubts that the North East has an important role in the Northern Powerhouse will be laid to rest on the weekend of 22nd June. That is the start date of the Great Exhibition of the North. This massive event is designed to challenge preconceptions about the North and will feature iconic exhibits illustrating great moments of our industrial and cultural heritage. It will do more than look backwards, the event will feature specially commissioned works including music, poetry and a massive water sculpture on the River Tyne in front of the Baltic and Sage Gateshead.

The Great Exhibition of the North will be the biggest event in England, it will take during June, July and August, is expected to generate £189 million for the local economy and attract millions of visitors.

The event was commissioned by George Osborne in November 2015 when, as Chancellor, he was forcefully pushing his Northern Powerhouse agenda. The Government has remained committed to the project, just as it has the rest of the Northern Powerhouse; last week the Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry, was kept in his job and the North of Tyne Devolution deal was confirmed in the Budget two months ago. Many other places in the North of England bid for the right to stage this exhibition – Blackpool, Sheffield and Bradford, which were left disappointed to not win.

The North East won because of the hard work of lots of organisations, the lead bidder NGI together with a strong team involving Sage Gateshead, Baltic, TWAM, and the local authorities. The bid was clearly supported by formidable physical and cultural assets; the location has been enhanced by the investments in world class arts facilities, the brilliant NE1 Business Improvement District, and thirty years of constant redevelopment on the Quayside and the Graingertown area that has given the place tangible energy and a thirst for success.

At my own business, we had a long break out session discussing how we and all our clients could get involved in the Great Exhibition. I think the work of the excellent NGI team will be supplemented by lots of ad-hoc activity, particularly around the opening weekend. Big events have a habit of attracting a sideshow that adds to the sense of occasion and excitement.

This event is also a marvellous opportunity to prove that the North of England, and the North East in particular, is not a cultural wasteland. The leaders of our impressive arts facilities have ensured that places like the Great North Museum, Sage Gateshead and the Baltic, will be at the heart of the show. They are investing in landmark commissions; for example the Baltic will host a new solo show by Newcastle-born Michael Dean, who was in the running for the Turner prize in 2016, while the 2017 winner Lubaina Himid, who lives in Preston, will be creating work for its ground floor.

I hope and expect that among the visitors to the North East during this event will be the leaders of Government. They need to see the best we have to offer and engage with our regional leadership. This has already started to work in Tees Valley, after the Prime Minister launched the South Tees Development Corporation, ministers we eager to support the new Mayor’s plans (full disclosure: I am a member of the STDC board).

This event is a marvellous opportunity to be positive and to publicise everything we can offer to investors, entrepreneurs and businesses. In March I will be attending the international property investor conference MIPIM, in Cannes. The North East is sending a delegation, and has a lot to shout about. Great locations like the Riverside in Durham, which is being transformed by the redevelopment of Milburngate, the former SSI site on Teesside, and the significant business parks in Sunderland and Newcastle. All will be represented in some form. But this year the people we meet can be invited back, to see our Great Exhibition of the North. The Department for International Trade, local authorities and development bodies should be drawing up corporate guest lists now and inviting people to see the greatest show in England.

The idea of ‘Great Exhibitions’ is not new. It started in 1851, with the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace showcasing the innovations of the new industrial society of Victorian England, a similar event happened 100 years later in 1951. Our Great Exhibition will be different, the organisers have a blank sheet of paper and their brief is wider than just industry and inventions.

An impressive creative team has been assembled and they appear determined to tell the story of the North’s trailblazing role in shaping the world today and the economy of tomorrow. Their work will engage a national and international audience, entertaining and exciting visitors, transforming global perceptions and inspiring generations to come.

It is already making an impact, the Rough Guide 2018 has put Newcastle at number one in a newly-published list of the top “18 places that should be on your radar in 2018”. The Great Exhibition of the North is named as a key reason to visit the city, along with neighbouring Gateshead, with 2018 billed as “Newcastle’s time to shine”.


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