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New Writing North, in partnership with The Northern Rock Foundation, launched the Northern Rock Foundation Writers Award in 2002.

The award came about through discussions between Fiona Ellis, Director of the Northern Rock Foundation and Claire Malcolm, Director of New Writing North, the literary development organisation for the North East. Both organisations were interested in strategies which would allow writers in the North East to thrive and which would help to support writers who were at critical points in their careers. From those conversations emerged the outline of an award which would allow writers to give up other work which was constricting the time they had to write.

The Northern Rock Foundation Writers Award was unlike most other awards and prizes in that it supported the creative work of an individual writer over a substantial length of time rather than giving recognition to just one book retrospectively.

The organisations created an award which offered unparalleled life support for writers at the level of 20,000 a year for a three-year period, making the award worth a total of 60,000. During its lifetime, the award was the largest literary award in the UK and the only one dedicated to supporting regional achievement.

The award was created with the recognition that many published writers have to undertake a variety of other work to support their creative writing. The award offered the chance for writers to be liberated from other work commitments that might limit their writing time. The award honoured literary achievement and supported writers to maximise their creativity.

Poet Laureate Andrew Motion hailed the award as a a brave and exciting new initiative. Gary McKeone, literature director for the Arts Council of England, said that the foundations partnership with New Writing North was exemplary and would, he hoped, set a trend across the country.

The award was for writers who had already demonstrated their talent through the publication of two or more books with a recognised publisher and was open to writers of both literary and genre fiction, poetry and biography and for writers of literature for children and young people.