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13 November 2014

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You are in: Tyne > Places > Places features > A literary playground

Outside of Seven Stories

Seven Stories opened in 2005

A literary playground

Newcastle's Seven Stories, The Centre for Children's Books, is a big hit with little readers.

On one floor children are jumping in and out of a replica of Toad's car from The Wind in the Willows, on another they are dressing up as characters from their favourite book.

This is Seven Stories in Newcastle's Ouseburn Valley, which opened in August 2005 to celebrate children's books.

Three years on, things are going strong with Seven Stories a runner-up in the best education project category at The National Lottery Awards 2008.

The Wind in the Willows exhibition

The Wind in the Willows exhibition

"We are absolutely thrilled to have reached the finals of The National Lottery Awards," said Kate Edwards, the centre's chief executive.

"We beat hundreds of other projects from all over the UK to get to this stage and it has been the most tremendous experience."

Love of books

There were a number of driving forces behind the creation of Seven Stories - to ensure children's books were more valued, to create a child-friendly environment where they could develop a love of books and to keep original manuscripts and illustrations in the UK by preventing them from being sold aboard.

And then to present it all in an innovative and appealing way including showing the whole creative process behind children's books.

"We want to provide people with an experience that is infectious, fun, thought-provoking and eye-opening"

Elizabeth Hammill

Co-founder Elizabeth Hammill worked with Mary Briggs on the project for many years and their dream came true when the £6.5m centre opened in a converted mill.

By August 2008, its visitor figures had reached 216,000.

As the name suggests, the centre is over seven floors and the inside is packed with many different spaces.

At the top is the Artist's Attic with huge sofas to snuggle in and read books, an area for storytellers and authors to hold readings, a theatre and a dressing up area. It is an informal area where families can go and spend time.

There are frequently changing exhibitions - in August 2008 they included Horrid Henry, The Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh.

The Engine Room is a space for children to be creative with cutting out, colouring and gluing and there is also a cafe and bookshop.

The Engine Room of Seven Stories

Children get creative in The Engine Room

Elizabeth said: "It just matters that people have had a good time.

"We want to provide people with an experience that is infectious, fun, thought-provoking and eye-opening."

Original manuscripts

It aims to explain the process behind writing and illustrating children's books and show children how they can do it too and also how stories can be explored in other ways, such as theatre.

Elizabeth said: "It's sort of a big literary playground for the imagination."

Seven Stories is accredited as a museum and now it is hoped that its collections of original artwork and manuscripts will eventually be recognised as being of national importance.

Boat created by children at Seven Stories

A boat created by children at Seven Stories

It already has original material from Philip Pullman, Robert Westall, Michael Rosen and Nick Sharratt among others and Elizabeth said the support of authors and illustrators is crucial in achieving that.

It is also working to develop children's books in the future. There is the Seven Stories Writers' and Artists' Group as well as encouraging the children themselves.

Before Seven Stories was set up, there was plenty of discussion about where it should be based, with London an obvious choice.

But Elizabeth said: "The region was already developing a reputation as a part of the country that really supported children's books and writers.

"Around 1993 Newcastle seemed the kind of place where exciting things were going on culturally. It just made sense.

"In a way we were here on our own and we might be able to make a statement. Just being in the North East is making a statement."

Seven Stories bookshop

The bookshop at Seven Stories

Inspire people

Three years after Seven Stories opened, Elizabeth said she is delighted with the way it is going.

"I never quite knew what it was going to be like when we started. It took on a life of its own," she said.

"All of the way through there's the notion of journey. With the invitation on the outside of the building, with the words, it suggests before you even go in that you are going to be going on a voyage."

She said the key to Seven Stories' success was making sure people returned and that while it had important aims at its heart, the aim was to deliver it in an appealing way.

She said: "Like the best books this is a place that can be reread and reread or revisited and revisited.

"I think it is just something that has turned out to have popular appeal and I think that's because although we are inherently serious we aren't treating it too seriously.

"We just want to excite and inspire people."

last updated: 01/09/2008 at 11:55
created: 27/08/2008

You are in: Tyne > Places > Places features > A literary playground



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