Great Exhibition of the North: Guest Family Blog

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Blog by Kathryn Row. Find Kathryn on Instagram @Northernmam

This summer, the North is definitely the place to be! As a family, we’ve been very lucky to have access to some brilliant events, workshops and exhibitions that have all been free.

NewcastleGateshead has been the stage for Great Exhibition of the North – an 80 day programme running from 22 June – 9 September. You could get quite overwhelmed by all the things that are going on, so here are our highlights from the past few weeks and what’s still left to enjoy…

The Rocket Reimagined, Created by Hedgehog Lab

Discovery Museum, Newcastle. Free entry: Daily 10am – 6pm

Rocket Reimagined at Great Exhibition of the North

Stephenson’s iconic locomotive ‘Rocket’ is back home on Tyneside, which you can see at Discovery Museum. My girls (aged 5 and 7) aren’t the biggest train fans but they were interested in the story and history of it. On the same level you can enjoy the Rocket Reimagined, a virtual reality experience – this did capture their attention and is worth doing. You go into booths as a family and take it in turns to wear the headset and ride the Rocket from 1829 through to the present day.

This runs until 9 September and you may have to wait (we only had a 10 minute wait).

Great North Children’s Hospital – Pop up Hospital

Newcastle University Herschel Building (opposite Haymarket). Open Mon–Fri, 10am – 3pm

Great North Children's Hospital at Great Exhibition of the North

Every week there’s different activities as part of Great North Children’s Hospital, Pop Up Hospital. Each event and activity is designed to educate children on the human body and hospital machinery. It’s a really lovely FREE experience. My two kids loved dressing up as nurses and using the pop up hospital beds to look after their poorly teddies. There’s professional staff on hand to talk too and it’s a great way to get an insight behind the scenes of what it’s like to go to hospital, so that (fingers crossed we don’t need too) but if we ever did, they’ve had a little taster and had fun!

Self-Build Utopias

Northern Stage. Open daily but I would check their website for details

Self Build Utopias

Over the summer, Northern Stage have hosted a series of artists who have taken over their studio space and created self-build utopias. It’s great to go for a walk through as there’s levers and incredibly bright artwork to take in – there’s also a great café and green outside to use as a pit stop! We met Fabric Lenny, who has created a mural under the stairway next to Stage 3 based on young people’s doodles. He will be back for a final takeover from 6 – 9th September and we’re definitely going back to see the finished piece and see if we can spot our doodle!

LEGO Timeline of Northern Innovation

The Mining Institute, down from Newcastle Central Station. Open daily, 10am – 6pm.

LEGO Timeline of Northern Innovation

LEGO artist Steve Mayes has created a pretty impressive timeline of Northern Innovation – my two kids loved spotting landmarks and playing with the toilet – there was poo, say no more! There’s also a LEGO maker space which to be honest we could have lost a day in there as they created their own landmarks to add to the people’s gallery. There’s also Multiverse Arcade at the Mining Institute which encourages young people to add their voices of hope for the future and a civil engineers exhibition upstairs with Meccano.  As I said we were lost for hours in there!

Winged Tales of the North

Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle

Winged Tales of the North for Great Exhibition of the North

Artist Kate Drumm has curated an art trail around the Ouseburn Valley inspired by children’s author David Almond.  We took part in a workshop before the trail was constructed to create pigeon crees to hang in the tree, so it was lovely going back and seeing the finished trail. The artwork for Winged Tales of the North is stunning and takes you along the Ouseburn river. Once you’re in the Ouseburn Valley there’s so much for families including David Almond’s exhibition at Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books, Ouseburn Farm and Stepney Bank Stables. There is a charge for Seven Stories but the trail around the Valley is free and a nice walk on a dry day. You can collect a map to help you navigate the trail from Seven Stories’ reception and Bookshop (free to visit these areas) or download a map before you go.

What we’re looking forward to next:

The Extraordinary Garden

Gateshead Quays, 1-2 September, 10am – 5pm. Free drop-in.

The Extraordinary Garden, Gateshead Quays

Every weekend, the Gateshead Quays have come to life with street theatre, music or art installations so it’s worth calling in. We’re heading down for the Extraordinary Garden as it sounds incredible as you walk through giant inflatable plants and enjoy garden street theatre.

Parental Guidance Party feat. Paul Smith

Sage Gateshead, 8 September, 12-1pm. Free drop-in. 

Parental Guidance Party at Sage Gateshead from Great Exhibition of the North

This sounds brilliant! We missed the first Parental Guidance Party as we were away and Sage Gateshead have ran others across the summer so it’s worth keeping an eye out. It’s basically a free family disco with face painting, musical crafts and glow sticks with none other than Maximo Park front man, Paul Smith – I mean what’s not to love? Sounds a great way to end Great Exhibition of the North.

Aeons: a Sound Journey for Newcastle

Start Gateshead Millennium Bridge, daily slots available but you have to pre-book (very limited tickets may be available on the day so you could chance it and drop into the glass booth opposite Pitcher and Piano)

I was lucky enough to have five minutes to do this on my own and it was an incredible experience – definitely one of my personal highlights. So much so, I’m going to take the kids and see how they get on! Aeons, A Sound Journey for Newcastle is a 30 minute walk along the banks of the River Tyne, with a headset and music responding to your surroundings. It’s been created by Opera North and includes vocals from singer Becky Unthank, and is a wonderful way to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life – whether it has the same impact with kids in tow is yet to be discovered but that’s part of the fun and games isn’t it?!

For full details of the programme and an extended Inspired By programme that takes place across the entire North visit their website Most of the events are free but I would check for full details, and quite often you need to prebook just to secure your place.

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