The North East has come up trumps for the second year running in a poll to find the United Kingdom’s favourite lottery-supported projects.
Yesterday, Mollie King, singer with girl group The Saturdays, presented Seven Stories with the National Lottery Award in the education category - one of seven related to lottery good causes.
Last year Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, across the river in Gateshead, was voted best arts project.
It is another indication that the massive lottery investment in Tyneside’s arts infrastructure has been a hit with the public.
A heavily staged ‘surprise’ presentation ceremony yesterday saw the glamorous Saturdays singer interrupt a storytelling session in the Seven Stories attic.
The children present had been listening to a story about a pig, a squirrel, a hedgehog and a hen when the lady with very high heels and long blonde hair appeared before them.
“I’m Mollie from The Saturdays and I’m here to tell you that you guys have won the National Lottery Award,” she declared.
The parents, who had probably all heard of The Saturdays, whooped and cheered so their children did likewise.
Mollie said she was delighted to present the award to Seven Stories because it was a place that encouraged reading and storytelling.
She said she grew up with dyslexia so had found reading difficult.
Alison Gwynn, programme director at Seven Stories, said she was delighted to receive the award.
It had come after Seven Stories’ national status was made official, allowing it to style itself the National Centre for Children’s Books.
The difference this time was that it was public votes that had secured a national accolade.
“Our aim is to inspire a love of reading across generations,” she said.
“National lottery funding has helped us so much and receiving this award is superb recognition for the hard work of the entire team and, of course, everyone who enjoys our programmes.”
Seven Stories, which opened in a former Victorian warehouse in Byker in 2005, has received £660,000 in national lottery funding from Arts Council England and £352,249 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
It welcomes more than 70,000 visitors a year, is building a valuable archive of manuscripts and illustrations, and is becoming renowned for its lively and appealing touring exhibitions.
Mollie King said afterwards that she was delighted to take any opportunity to pass on the message that dyslexia need not be a major setback.
She recalled that she had hated reading aloud at school.
“The problem with dyslexia is people can sometimes jump to the conclusion, ‘Oh, she’s thick’.
“My spelling is fine but I always had difficulties with reading. My mum encouraged me by reading to me and urging me to read.
“It’s so important to have good stories that really appeal to children.”
Dyslexia didn’t hold the 26-year-old Londoner back unduly.
She achieved three A-levels, all at grade A, and won a place at Loughborough University before her music career took off.
She was also an accomplished skiier and competed for Britain.
Yesterday she said The Saturdays had a new album coming out in October and a tour planned for next year.
Seven Stories, which also receives a £2,000 prize, will feature in an awards ceremony to be shown on BBC One in September, presented by John Barrowman.