Centre for Life - Newcastle upon Tyne

PUBLISHED: 13:59 11 January 2010 | UPDATED: 11:39 28 February 2013

The Centre for Life, Newcastle

The Centre for Life, Newcastle

Research meets the fun of the fair at the Centre for Life. Diane Varty goes on a journey of discovery

A city is in part defined by its attractions, and the quality of a city's attractions can help to determine its character and reputation. Newcastle upon Tyne is already famous for its bridges, football team, and superb shopping and social life.

The Hoppings is one of the city's defining symbols - all the fun of the fair inherent in its name. So, too, is its modern equivalent, the Centre for Life, throbbing and bustling with entranced visitors having a great time. No other single attraction affirms so completely that the image of Newcastle as a city dominated by the industry of the past is dead.

The Centre for Life could be said to encapsulate the North East's vitality and zest for life. Opened in May 2000, the curved and beautiful bulk of the Centre for Life nestles comfortably near Newcastle Central Station. It is odd to see that the station, with its dignified Victorian look and mellow stone, can blend so well with the modern shape and impressive proportions of the Centre for Life.

The Centre's architect, Sir Terry Farrell, is a local lad: he used to catch a bus home from school on the very spot that would one day become the site for the building. Linda Conlon, chief executive of the Centre for Life, has been involved with the project since it was a twinkle in the city's eye. 'The idea for the attraction grew from a group who were thinking about Newcastle's needs.'

The need to be a modern city. A Millennium project partially funded by the National Lottery, the Centre was intended to kickstart regeneration in the western area of Newcastle. The approach to this part of town was dreary; the very picture of inner city decay. Now we've got the modern hulk of the Centre, all curves and huge copper roof (pilots navigate by it), set around Times Square. The square, not yet as popular perhaps as the one in New York, was the first new square to be constructed in the city for a century and for 15 weeks in the winter it hosts a temporary skating rink.

Today, Newcastle is one of the country's six northern Science Cities, sharing the honour with Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Nottingham and York. In 2005, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, announced that the city would be a world-class leader of science-based business and regeneration.

The Centre for Life has done him proud, producing internationally-famous research in genetics, nanotechnology and advances in life science, and spawning businesses based on new technology and discoveries along the way. Within the Centre for Life, the Life Banqueting and Conference facilities feature large purposebuilt rooms with nearby laboratories which can be used for medical or pharmaceutical demonstrations, if needed.

Now that Newcastle has an awesome reputation to maintain, the Centre for Life supports it admirably by promoting co-operation between academics and scientists. 'It's brought people together who normally wouldn't get together,' says Linda Conlon. That's the way they do business here. Lifelab, the educational arm of the Centre for Life, prides itself on providing interactive exhibitions with explanations and help delivered by enthusiastic and friendly red-shirted 'science explainers' who make the technical and complicated easy to understand for many local schoolchildren and interested adults.

At Lifelab, in typical Geordie style, workshops can teach you to appreciate the many qualities of 'snot' or how to analyse an athlete's urine for performanceenhancing drugs. Not something you'd forget in a hurry, but part of the Centre's remit is to promote 'deep learning' of health-related topics. In Linda Conlon's words: 'It's heads on, minds on, hearts on' - a bit like the Toon.

In encouraging science learning for every age group, the Centre is a hallmark of Newcastle today.We can be proud that people come from other countries to investigate how the Centre for Life has incorporated all its various functions. There's a strong international interest which is good for the North East. A member of the PR staff at the Centre, Kate Slater, says: 'It's brilliant for the region.' So, if you're choosing between a visit to the Hoppings or the Centre for Life for an entertaining afternoon, remember one thing. It's said that the fair was cursed by a witch who promised torrents of rain every time the Hoppings spent a week on the Town Moor in Newcastle.

The Centre for Life, meanwhile, has led a charmed life - it's dry and comfortable, and it's there all year round. We celebrate our industrial past by the saying 'carrying coals to Newcastle'. According to Linda Conlon, maybe in the future, it'll be 'carrying stem cells to Newcastle'. But whether the Centre for Life is known for stem cells or educational excellence, it has its finger on the pulse of the city, helping to keep the 'new' in Newcastle. Centre for Life, Times Square, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 4EP. Event Information: 0191 243 8210. Email: info@life.org.uk.

Bookings: 0191 243 8223 Schools & Lifelab Workshop Information. 0191 243 8211. Email: education@life.org.uk

Conferencing. 0191 243 8282, fax: 0191 243 8201.

Email: enquiries@lifeconferencing.org.uk.

Website: www.lifeconferencing.org.uk.

Bookings: 0191 243 8223

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