AN ambitious festival celebrating the cultural heritage of the North-East aims to unite the whole region this summer.

Supported by leading figures in the arts including Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall and artist Anthony Gormley, the Festival of the North-East will involve the entire region from Teesside to Tyneside, Wearside and Northumberland.

Dozens of events and artistic installations will be staged at various locations throughout June, all inspired by the North-East’s heritage.

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Festival chairman Anthony Sergeant said: “There is a big difference between the steel history of the Tees Valley and the very rural communities of Northumberland, but there is something very similar about their strength, their ingenuity and that way of finding a way round, through or over adversity.

“At the same time the North-East is a very welcoming region.

“It isn’t all gritty and hard; it has a great warmth and friendliness and that’s what I think is unique about this area and is why a festival like this is possible.

“I really couldn’t see it happening in any other region in the same way.”

Festival highlights include the foghorn at Souter Lighthouse, in Sunderland, lending its notes to a specially written requiem involving steel bands and offshore boats.

The Tees Barrage, in Stockton, will celebrate the area’s rich engineering history with a series of interactive activities including a zip wire across the river, while dozens of other events involving major artists and community groups will take place across the region.

Mercury Prize nominee and Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith is taking part and said he was delighted when organisers approached him with the festival’s concept.

He said: “Everything is focused on London; it is the cultural capital whether it is fashion or music or art.

“All the big record companies are there, all the big galleries are there and they get all the big touring exhibitions first, but when you bring the spotlight to the North-East, to places like Mima and the Baltic, you realise that they are getting major international exhibitions and making a really important contribution to the arts.

The Northern Echo: Joshua Portway
Artists Joshua Portway, left, and Lise Autogena with composer Orlando Gough, right, ahead of the Foghorn Requiem outside Souter Lighthouse

“We need to shout about that a bit more and that is what the Festival of the North- East is about. It is saying ‘look at us’ a bit more, it is not only this hard industrial place, there is a lot of beauty, a lot of creativity and a lot of interesting things going on.”

The return of the Lindisfarne Gospels to Durham has acted as the catalyst for the festival and details of all the events taking place throughout the summer can be found online at festivalne.com