Where does the North East come in the list of lottery hits and misses

As National Lottery operators Camelot marks its big birthday, Barbara Hodgson recalls what lottery cash has added up to for the North East

Angel of the North
Angel of the North

When the National Lottery was first drawn on live TV on November 19, 1994, few could have foreseen how the next two decades would pan out.

Twenty years of the lottery have resulted in 3,700 millionaires and 450,000 lottery-funded projects, large and small.

Recent figures show that the North East is losing out when it comes to lottery funding, with London getting more than its fair share.

But even a cursory glance around the region would reveal that we have made our funding go a long way and can argue that the lottery money that has come our way has been spent more wisely here than it has been elsewhere. When the capital was left red-faced with its wobbly bridge, we showcased Gateshead Millennium Bridge, now giving the Tyne Bridge a run for its money as the city’s most familiar landmark.

Also changing the face of the riverscape – as lottery cash helped bring about our cultural renaissance of the past 20 years – came Sage Gateshead and the Baltic while across the river organisations such as Dance City, Seven Stories and Waygood were helped to realise their ambitions, and in Sunderland the National Glass Centre, after a few initial hiccups with cracked glass, became a success story.

The Gateshead Millennium Bridge with the crane Asian Hercules II in the background at night
The Gateshead Millennium Bridge with the crane Asian Hercules II in the background at night

When the lottery was first envisaged by John Major’s Government, it was quickly established that it should not go to prop up normal public spending and subsidise cuts on things like schools and hospitals.

So it was decreed that lottery projects had to be about new things, and in many places that meant new buildings providing new functions not previously thought of.

The launch of the lottery combined too with the looming Millennium and soon every area of the country was chasing lottery cash for a high-profile development that defined their communities in the Year 2000.

Some of those projects worked well – and Gateshead’s Millennium Bridge and Newcastle’s Centre for Life were among the best. Others – the Millenium Dome in London, Sheffield’s Pop Museum – were less successful.

Newcastle’s Blue Carpet can probably count as the region’s least successful lottery project, coming in over-schedule, over-budget and, said some, not really blue at all. But one of the first lottery projects in the region is also – 20 years on – still one of the best.

The Angel of the North has its detractors too when the idea of a massive sculpture by the side of the A1 was first mooted.

The Arts Council Lottery Fund contributed £584,000 to its £800,000 cost (the other £150,000 coming from the European Development Fund and £45,000 from Northern Arts).

Over 16 years on from its erection in Gateshead, it is the country’s most recognised contemporary piece of public art and most of us love it.

The £3m restoration of the Hexham Abbey medieval monastery complex
The £3m restoration of the Hexham Abbey medieval monastery complex

A recent poll by The Journal made it the most recognisable symbol of the North, ahead of longer established landmarks like the Tyne Bridge and Hadrian’s Wall.

An economic report at the time of its 10th anniversary said there was “little doubt” the Angel had paved the way for Gateshead to make further successful funding bids, including for Baltic art gallery, Sage Gateshead world-class music hall, and Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

Taken together, those three projects have transformed a riverscape already famous for earlier landmarks such as the Tyne, High Level and Swing bridges.

Elsewhere, lottery funding has transformed parks in Newcastle, aided the restoration of Hexham Abbey and made Bowes Museum more accessible.

For every lottery millionaire selling up and moving to Darras Hall there have been any number of Offa’s Dyke Associations (recipient of £720 in 2007 for an awareness project) or Quaking House Allotments Associations (£3,000 in 2008 for a security fence).

MPs recently urged the Arts Council to end the imbalance of the funding system that favours London and sees the region lose out in the distribution of both grants from the taxpayer and lottery funding.

Grants for the North East in 2012-13 amounted to £9.64 per person compared with £21.90 per person in London while lottery cash for the arts saw the North East receive £4.45 per head compared with the national average of £5.93 and £12.07 in London.

Sally Adams The blue carpet in Newcastle
The blue carpet in Newcastle

But lottery grants are still coming, with this week alone seeing Ashington Town Council getting £44,000 towards an enhanced war memorial and £5.5m going to a charity partnership aiming to improve the lives of people with complex needs.

The next big winner in the North East could be Beamish Museum, which has received initial support towards a £10.75m lottery grant that would develop a 1950s town in the popular open air museum.

Just like the lottery itself, the funding it gives to good causes has produced both winners and losers.

The Eden Project in Cornwall might have been a hit but the less said about The Public in West Bromwich, an arts centre which closed after five years and has recently reopened as a sixth-form college, the better.

The North East has fared better than most. What we’ve had we have tended to spend wisely and have cashed in with a new cultural landscape to envy.


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