The Side Gallery: Inside the ‘inspiring’ Newcastle museum hidden down a secret Quayside alley

The Side Gallery has a colourful history and exhibits poignant displays today

Every Geordie knows the buzzing businesses and iconic attractions of the Newcastle Quayside like the back of their hand... or do they?

Just off Dean Street is an alleyway so tiny that you could walk past a hundred times and never cast an eye down it - it’s called The Side.

Found opposite the Akenside Traders pub, the cosy little alley leads into The Side Gallery.

One of the city's lesser-known museums, The Side Gallery champions documentary and photo exhibitions.

The museum is home to the revered Amber Films, a film and photography collective who have been based in the North East for over 50 years.

The Side Gallery's history is as colourful as its building is quirky.

The museum's photography collection inspired the creator of Billy Elliot, at one period was sought out by "amorous couples who would like to try and gamble with privacy" and, fast forward over 20 years, today the museum hosts a cutting-edge look at protests given recent Kill the Bill controversy.

Amber Films' Bryan Dixon explained The Side Gallery's purpose and why the documentary is such a vital art form.

Bryan Dixon
Bryan Dixon
Bryan Dixon

He said: "The gallery and cinema were set up as a place to share the work of the Amber Collective but then as the collective and the work grew, it became involved with international work and commissioning other artists.

"Our purpose is to show the best examples of documentary art from across the world and bring them to the region to inspire and engage our audiences.

"Documentary is a very accessible medium and it's about promoting issues and raising awareness for the things that affect and unite us all."

At the moment, on the museum's first floor is that Citizens of our Time exhibition.

Citizens of our Time
Citizens of our Time
Citizens of our Time

Gary Calton's gallery shows photographs of activists from Newcastle to far-flung countries.

Calton would capture the portraits on his camera over a 25-year period, then contact each individual who would pen a letter about their plight which is printed in their own handwriting under the image.

It's a moving display capturing a wide range of people with differing beliefs that is sure to provoke discussion.

Above the gallery is a cinema room which showcases The Side Gallery's famous documentary work.

Currently screening is Izabela Jedrzejczyk and Amber Films' What Happened Here, a deep dive into the 1984 Miners' Strike and support provided by a group of women in Easington Colliery.

The alley’s entrance
The alley’s entrance
The alley’s entrance

At 60 minutes long, it's a big watch, but Bryan says people come and sit and stay for it all.

Indeed, reviews in a visitor's book agree with guests praising the "living legends" in the documentary, a story "that needs to be told and retold" and labelling it "fascinating, inspiring, moving".

For those who still need convincing to duck into The Side and discover the hidden museum, Bryan said: "If you haven't come to The Side Gallery or Amber, please come to the Quayside and see what we have on and the treasures we have.

"The work in our archive is exemplary in quality and engagement, the stories we bring to the gallery from around the world are vital stories and we really want to promote the transformational power of documentary, film and photography.

"I hope it's a place that can really affect people, inform people and bring people together."