It’s hard to believe that this beautiful county was once the epicentre of battles, border wars and religious upheaval. This summer, Northumberland is showcasing everything it has to offer, with 56 days of arts, culture and heritage events all under the banner of Great Northumberland 2018. The event aims to showcase the county’s rich heritage, unique traditions and breathtaking landscape, while also demonstrating its forward-thinking approach to environmental innovation and digital technology.
Inspired by the Great Exhibition of the North, Northumberland will host an eight week extravaganza with some of the county’s best-loved attractions playing host. ‘With the spotlight firmly on our region this summer we wanted to showcase all Northumberland has to offer, encouraging visitors and residents to explore our stunning county,’ explains Councillor Peter Jackson of Northumberland County Council, who are putting the programme together. ‘We have put together a programme of events with a vision to bring people together from the region and beyond.’
Great Northumberland 2018 will be launched in Hexham on Saturday 7th July with an exciting opening show by organisers Walk the Plank, one of the worlds leading outdoor theatre and spectacle companies. In and around the grounds of Hexham Abbey, the launch will feature street theatre, music and comedy from performers including Spark! LED drummers. The show is just a taste of what’s to come over the following weeks, with performances set against a backdrop of a large animated map of the county, accompanied by pyrotechnics, music and large scale props.
The 56-day celebration will stretch across the entire county, from performances at Prudhoe and exhibitions at Lindisfarne and Cragside, to community art installations at Blyth and live music in Berwick. ‘From July until September, Northumberland will be alive with exhibitions, installations, music performances and immersive experiences,’ explains Peter. ‘Now is the time to show off what’s great about our county. Northumberland has been recognised as a destination of choice for an increasing number of UK and overseas visitors. Tourism is set to become our leading employment sector — in 2016 tourism added £852 million to our local economy. It’s such a significant aspect of that it’s important that we capture this opportunity.’
The extensive programme of events is only a starting point, as the council are encouraging venues and organisations from across Northumberland to get involved by including their events and businesses under the Great Northumberland banner. ‘As a county council we can’t do this alone,’ explains Councillor Cath Homer. ‘We realise there are an awful lot of people out there doing great things, so we want to use every available means we’ve got to bring all these people under one banner.’
Hoping to engage younger people to get involved, the council are incorporating digital technology into the events in the hope of capturing their imagination. The Sill in Northumberland National Park will play host to a digital exhibition demonstrating how innovative technology can be used to engage younger generations with the landscape. Virtual reality will allow visitors to experience a 360-degree view of the surrounding area, with information about the nature, wildlife and history of the area available at the touch of a button, and several apps are being developed to make exploring the park a more immersive experience.
While Northumberland’s never-ending list of attractions is known to those of us in the North East, outside the region it’s something of a hidden gem. ‘We want Northumberland to be internationally recognised for our heritage, we want local people to benefit from a range of cultural experiences, we want to make our county an outstanding place to live, work and visit,’ explains Peter. ‘We need to use these opportunities to strengthen our position as an international destination for culture, heritage and arts. Northumberland has never been in a better position to promote itself,’ he continues.
‘The coast, the castles and the countryside are all to die for, but the largest attraction is the cultural one. We want to attract people to live here, work here and bring their families here, but we need to show people outside Northumberland how many opportunities there are.’
To promote the event on a national and worldwide platform, the council have recruited ambassadors including athlete Laura Weightman, the Duchess of Northumberland and television presenter, chef, and one half of the Hairy Bikers, Si King.
‘I want to use my profile and my enthusiasm for the county to promote the community and the food. The produce here is second to none, as is the landscape and culture,’ explains Si. ‘We’re expecting three million visitors to the North this summer, and for the council to put a complementary scheme in place for people to expand their knowledge of Northumberland is a great idea. I’ve never heard anyone say anything other than what a warm and welcoming place it is; we have a character and personality that we should exploit more, because that’s a great reputation and legacy to have.’
Working alongside Northumberland County Council, Si will be promoting events, discussing the region’s rich heritage and of course, the fantastic food that comes out of the county. ‘We have at least 10,000 years of history as far as we know, from the Roman Empire to Vikings and the rise of Christianity at Lindisfarne — it’s a remarkable history, and that shapes our culture and food,’ explains Si. ‘We have some amazing chefs who create spectacular dishes out of the produce from Northumberland. The weather here isn't the most clement, so the produce is packed full of flavour because it’s worked hard to grow. We do incredibly well with the resources we have,’ he continues.
Si believes that Great Northumberland 2018 is an opportunity to promote the county and help people see the real Northumberland. ‘We need to show people who we really are — Northumberland is warm, knowledgable, generous and welcoming,’ he says. ‘It’s one of the UK’s hidden gems, but there is no reason why it should be. North Yorkshire isn’t a hidden gem, Cumbria isn’t a hidden gem,’ Si continues. ‘We’ve not been brilliant at promoting ourselves, but now we need to come together and show the world what we’ve got.’
Dates for the Diary
Great Northumberland 2018 covers the entire county, and spreads across July through to September
7th July THE GREAT NORTHUMBERLAND 2018 SHOWCASE
Save the date for the launch of GN18 — the grounds of Hexham Abbey will be alive with captivating displays and a family-friendly programme of music, street theatre and entertainment.
14–15th July OUT THERE
Join theatre company Mortal Fools at Prudhoe Riverside for an outdoor theatre piece set against the striking backdrop of the Northumberland countryside
28th July CARNIVAL CAPERS
Celebrate 300 years of history at Seaton Delaval Hall — enjoy the party atmosphere full of fun, magic and theatre at the hall. Watch as history is brought to life with music, performances and parades throughout the day.
1st September THE GREAT SONG OF THE NORTH
Head to Berwick for the final event — a rousing selection of well-loved Northumbrian songs, celebratory fanfare by the Kings Own Scottish Borders and the first performance of The Great Song of the North
To find the full list of events or to get involved, visit www.greatnorthumberland.co.uk