Great North Festival (GNF)

For information about the Great Exhibition of the North follow the link: .   

We are delighted to extend our support to the team delivering the Great Exhibition of the North 2018, which we hope will fulfill our aims and by celebrating innovation, bring hope to the North especially the young.  

A Sermon preached by Canon David Goodacre in preparation for the Great Exhibition of the North in St Nicholas’ Cathedral, Newcastle,

Sunday June 10, 2018, 10am.

If you are driving South on the A1 and have reached the Angel; if you look straight ahead – which you will of course be doing as a safe driver – you will see ahead of you, on the left of the road, a cream building; it is just before the Sunderland turning.  It is a pub.  When I was a curate in Birtley it was called the Moor Inn.  It has gone up-market since and it is now the Bowes-Incline Hotel.  The name is on the side, but it is difficult to see coming from the North – easier from the South.

The Bowes-Incline was a cable railway for transporting coal from the pits of North Durham to the Jarrow Staithes on the Tyue.  The trucks used to trundle past our church, St John’s, Birtley – up with the coal, down with the empties.  All gone now of course!  The way is now a country path.

It was down this path – this track – on October 5th, 1936 that 200 men from Jarrow began their famous march to London.  They had started out from Christ Church Jarrow – so Stuart Maconie says in his account of the March1  – commissioned in prayer and going out  singing ‘O Happy Band of Pilgrims’  led by their MP Ellen Wilkinson.  They walked to London to present their petition – ‘Send us work!’  Palmer’s Shipyard had closed and unemployment in Jarrow had risen to 80%.  So they were in a real sense crying out to the Lord;

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,

Let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.2

Was their great spiritual exercise, their orderly march of witness a success?  One marcher said, “It did not make a ha’porth of difference.’  They were not received by anyone.  Their petition was not heard.  No one knows where it went.  And yet over the years it has had an immense impact –  Spiritual initiatives often taken a long time before their impact can be measured.  It remains a great icon of witness and resistance, a statement of prayer – of hope.

And yet!  As a young priest arriving in Birtley in 1963, I got very fed up hearing about the Jarrow March.  I thought – the march was 27 years ago.  Can we not think more about the future and build up our hope on a less desperate situation?  There has always been a danger in the North East of becoming self-pitying; to ask, does anyone care?  Is there any hope?  St Paul says in the 2 Corinthians passage we had for the epistle 3

‘We (are a people) who do not lose heart.’

Why?  because we are the people of the resurrection.  Even though everything might be falling apart, we are a people who live within an eternal truth – that in Christ we are stronger than death.

The Jarrow March was in fact a declaration of hope, an enactment of the people’s prayer for a future – but while taking this message from it, it is more important that we learn too from some other stories from Jarrow, stories that I would suggest are less about desperation, more about achievement – two stories.

The first is from the 7th and 8th centuries. That was a time when the North East was one of the most cultured parts of Europe.  Bede, the great scholar from Sunderland – or somewhere round here – was a monk in Jarrow.  It was in Jarrow that the oldest extant Latin Bible was written.  Three copies were made – all by hand – two are lost, one remains: the Codes Amiatinus, as it is now called.  It is in Florence.  The monks then made something of immense beauty – a great work of art – to nourish the people spiritually.  The North did great things then – a reason for Hope now.

The second is from the 19th century.  In this century this part of England was the industrial powerhouse of the country and so a place of innovation – and indeed of design.    The Bowes-Incline railway was in fact first opened in 1826; built by George Stephenson to improve the transport of coal over the hills of North Durham to the Jarrow Staithes.  If you go to the museum at Springwell, where there is still a bit of the railway, you can see the giant wheel that Stephenson designed to control the cable.  This was great innovation, solving a problem so that ’Coals could come from Newcastle.’  The North did great things in the 19th century, a reason for HOPE now.  If it was done in the past, it can be done again.

HOPE thrives on Memory, on great things being done in the past.  It is why the Israelites in the Old Testament constantly referred back to the Crossing of the Red Sea.  God was with them then, rescuing them.  If he did it then, he could do it now.

And we as Christians constantly refer back to the Resurrection.  God triumphed over death in the past, we in him will triumph over it in the future.  It is a profound reason for HOPE.

So in these two memories, we have examples of creative art, of inspirational design, of innovation.

So, starting on June 22nd Newcastle and Gateshead are to host the Great Exhibition of the North to celebrate these gifts of God: innovation, art, and design.  The central part will be three trails, each one majoring on one of these three themes:

The Innovation Trail

Starts at the Great North Museum (The Hancock as it used to be known) and passing round the Western side of the city, includes the University, and goes to the main hub, The Discovery Museum – where Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ will be.  There will be exhibits at the Mining Institute and the Lit and Phil and elsewhere – and the trail ends at the Baltic.

The Art Trail

Starts at the Baltic (its hub) and heads North through the centre of Newcastle – includes the Side Gallery, the Laing and other places – to end at the Great North Museum.

The Design Trail

This also starts at the Great North Museum and goes round the Eastern side of the City, It includes Northumbria University and ends in Gateshead at the Northern Design Centre.

The exhibition is about recovering vision.  It is a sharing of achievements, of new ideas, a great spiritual exercise as I see it to generate HOPE.

Essentially, while recognising that we need money from elsewhere and ideas from wherever, it is a recognition that initiative has to start here.  As Ian Wrigglesworth says, Durham Cathedral was not built with a grant.  We need to have the vision here; so that those who are struggling, the poor and the needy, people like the Jarrow Marchers and the many who despair may be encouraged – and helped.  As the psalmist says,

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits for him.  In his word is my HOPE. 4

In the Gospel this morning 5 , which was about those who wanted to persuade people that Jesus was mad, that what he was doing was evil, we see Jesus remaining calm – and undisturbed, never losing heart, giving hope to the people he encountered.  The Gospel passage ends with Jesus among a gathering of people – no doubt very mixed, some rich, some poor, some no doubt distressed.  Jesus’s personal family wwere outside, and people came to tell him that they are there.  What does he say?

‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’    and looking at those who sat around him, he  said, ‘These are my mother and my brothers.  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’6

The exhibition I believe is about creating community; a community which is equal, where rich and poor alike can  flourish – not about making some inordinately rich – but creating a real community, a community of all – that we may all be alive.

The readings for the day: Genesis 3, 8-15, Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 4,13 – 5,1 and Mark, 3,20-end.

GNF’s final meeting will be on September 17th, 2018.  Despite what it says to the right, it will finish at 7-30pm.  If you would like information about it and a copy of our final review, please send an email with name and address – see ‘Contact us’ page.   

Our Final Newsletter – No. 14 – was published on May 17th 2018.   The main article is about the innovation route of the Great Exhibition of the North and the start of the exhibition on June 22nd.  Read also David’s blog and the Jasmina Cibic exhibition.    To read the Newsletter on line, click ‘Read more’ in the box, bottom right.    To read David’s blog, go to News and click the pages until you reach it.  


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Newsletter 14

May 19, 2018

The Great Exhibition of the North starts on June 22nd.  GNF’s final Newsletter highlights the opening event, the different trails – art, design and innovation, especially innovation as that has been GNF’s main focus.  Read more Read More