Local: Fenwick Window can be a beacon of hope for the North East

By Sarah Green, chief executive of the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative (NGI)

The eagerly anticipated reveal of this year’s Fenwick Christmas window display was a very different experience this year. Under normal circumstances, thousands of people would pack out Northumberland Street to watch the department store reveal its festive display but this year the famous Geordie tradition appeared exclusively on Facebook Live to a virtual audience for the first time.

A tradition dating back to 1971, the Fenwick window is a major part of every North East child’s Christmas and signals the start of the festive period for many. Themes in the past have included The Snowman, Beatrix Potter and Oliver Twist, with the reveal of the annual theme attracting national attention.

In 2018, fellow North East headquartered business Greggs projected their logo into the centre of the window display by reversing the lettering of their flagship store opposite. A simple but innovative PR stunt that sent Fenwick window viral and helped Greggs win Marketing Week’s Brand of the Year in 2019.

This year’s Fenwick reveal of the Wind in the Willows theme has now been viewed over a quarter of a million times online, with 79,000 devices streaming the reveal live. This highlights the support for our North East traditions, our love of Christmas and the amazing ability of the public and businesses to adapt and innovate during these difficult times.

The Fenwick Window reveal is just one example of adaptation that we have seen locally. The region has shown itself to be resilient throughout the pandemic, with both public and private sectors working together to balance the health of the public with the needs of the economy. Back in August, the eyes of the world were on us, when the Virgin Money Unity Arena at Newcastle Racecourse hosted the UK’s first large-scale socially distanced gigs. The events, enjoyed by more than 2000 people at a time, were hailed as a huge success.

In June, Newcastle Racecourse held the first live sport event post the lockdown after horse racing was permitted to restart and in September, Newcastle Eagles hosted and played the first live basketball game since March, with live streaming to fans and season ticket holders.

Innovation can be seen in countless places throughout the region, not only to keep businesses afloat but also to help the local community. In March 2020, Newcastle’s historic Grainger Market, which has been trading since 1835 and survived two world wars, fires, The Great Depression and countless other major events during its 185-year history, faced a devastating crisis when national lockdown was announced. By the end of March, the market traders had, with the help of the local Business Improvement District NE1 and Newcastle City Council, created a website and launched Grainger Market Delivery delivering fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, bread and other great food direct to people’s homes.

For those missing their favourite restaurants, Local Heroes North East created a new concept utilising the best of North East food and drink and chef talent. The Dine in North East (DINE) culinary experience delivers a box of restaurant quality ingredients and recipes to prepare at home which celebrate local people, produce and provenance.

Finally, at NGI, we have just launched a Virtual Christmas Gift Market to support tourism businesses, independent shops, attractions, cultural venues, and restaurants in the region. Shoppers can find gift vouchers from the virtual market for friends and family to enjoy when it is safe to do, while at the same time supporting local businesses. Gifting these vouchers at Christmas, means we can secure that money into the industry now, and customers can redeem them when it is safe to do so.

What is also encouraging is that the region continues to announce high profile capital investment projects, demonstrating our ambition for the future. Planning for the £260 million NewcastleGateshead Quays has been approved and a new Radisson RED hotel has been announced at the Strawberry Place site next to St James’ Park. Add these to the imminent openings of Hard Rock Café and the Innside Hotel by Melia on the quayside, as well as the longer-term plans for The Whey Aye Wheel and the development of Pilgrim Street, and there is plenty to be optimistic about within the region.

While this is an incredibly difficult time for many businesses, it has been encouraging to see the resilience and innovation shown in the North East. When people walk down Northumberland Street and see this year’s Fenwick Window – not only will they see the display, but the resilience of the people in the North East and a beacon of hope for the future.