THE region was rallying behind a new museum last night only 24-hours before judging begins for Britain's Museum of the Year.

Sports stars, politicians, clergy and The Northern Echo are backing Locomotion: the National Railway Museum, in Shildon, County Durham, in its bid to become the first attraction in the region to land the Gulbenkian prize for the best museum.

Last night, the Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Tom Wright, sent the museum his best wishes.

His comments were echoed by Newcastle United and England legend Alan Shearer, and Olympic gold medalist Jonathan Edwards.

Thousands of well-wishers have already signalled their support for the museum's bid on the Gulbenkian website.

The bid also has support from key politicians, including local MP Derek Foster.

The £13m project is one of ten shortlisted for the accolade, and is the only attraction in the North-East in the running.

Judges will visit Shildon tomorrow and the finalists will be chosen on March 18.

The winner, which will receive £100,000 in prize money, will be announced on BBC2's Culture Show, on May 26.

If Locomotion wins, museum bosses will invest the cash in the development. The money could pay for a secure display unit to exhibit a silver model of Locomotion, the engine that hauled the world's first passenger train, from Shildon in 1825.

The model is on loan to the museum from the Royal Collection, but bosses say they cannot afford to exhibit it.

The Bishop of Durham pledged his support to the museum following a recent visit with his wife, Maggie.

He said: "Not only is it a marvellous exhibition in its own right, it is also a sign of hope and renewal in a community that has always been focused on railways."

Olympic athlete Jonathan Edwards said: "The museum illustrates just how much can be achieved by having high ambitions and turning those ideas into reality."

Sedgefield Borough Council has launched a campaign for people to log on to the Gulbenkian website to tell judges why they think Locomotion deserves the prize.

To show support for the museum, log on to