THE countdown has started to a major religious broadcast in South Tyneside.
In a week’s time, the BBC’s flagship Easter programme, the Great North Passion (GNP), will be broadcast live from Bents Park in South Shields.
Over the last three months, a dozen artists have worked with communities in South Shields, Sunderland and across the North East on retelling the story of Christ’s last hours for the GNP, which will broadcast live at noon on BBC One, on Good Friday.
Artists and communities have been interpreting themes developed from the Stations of the Cross, using shipping containers as part of their work.
These containers are now arriving at Bents Park, and will eventually form a huge cross in time for Good Friday.
Up to 4,000 people will form the congregation inside the cross-shaped installation, to enjoy a mixture of choral and contemporary music, dance, mass performance and art.
TV personality Fern Britton will host the live event and singer Alexandra Burke will be among the many performers, who will include opera singer Graeme Danby – who will lead a massed choir of several hundred local singers.
Meanwhile, artworks ranging from a boat atop a shipping container with a net descending to the floor, made by local fishermen, to a poem with a South Shields flavour about kindness to strangers, will be showcased.
The GNP is a joint collaboration between the BBC and the Cultural Spring, a £2m three-year, Arts Council-funded project, working with five wards in South Shields and five in Sunderland, aimed at boosting arts in the community.
Partners in the scheme are the Customs House, South Shields, the University of Sunderland and the Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Trust. Rebecca Ball, project director of the Cultural Spring, said: “Excitement is starting to build among the artists and their respective communities and now that the first containers have arrived, it’s starting to feel very real.
“The artists, communities and performers have all put a lot of hard work in a very short period of time and we’re sure the Passion will be a very special event that will live long in the memory.”
Ray Spencer, executive director of the Customs House, said: “What a mammoth job it has been co-ordinating the artists and community input.
“The Cultural Spring team is to be commended – I am sure everyone’s collective efforts will be realised into a special people’s GNP, made here and shared with the world.”
Coun Alan Kerr, deputy leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “It’s fantastic to have such a prestigious event in South Tyneside just two weeks after the launch of the new promenade and sea wall at Littlehaven beach.
“It’s exciting to see the event start to take shape as the gigantic cross is assembled in Bents Park.
“Millions of people visit the borough every year to enjoy the beautiful coastline and superb summer events, and this will put the area in the national spotlight once again.”