North East businesses split from the herd in a stampede to choose their Elmers for the region’s biggest, free, public event of the summer.

Fifty individually decorated statues of the popular storybook character, Elmer the Elephant, will be positioned across Tyne and Wear for the 11 week-long Elmer’s Great North Parade, which begins on 21 August.

And the designs for the sculptures – created by artists from across the UK – were unveiled to businesses by the Parade’s organiser, St Oswald’s Hospice, at a special event at the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead this week (13 May).

Business leaders from Nando’s, The Tyne Tunnels, Northumbrian Water, Gentoo and the Bridges – who are all sponsoring Elmer sculptures – were among more than 40 companies which took part in the race to choose their favourite design.

Many of those who have signed up to sponsor an Elmer statue also sponsored a Snowdog in the 2016 Great North Snowdogs trail, which attracted more than 676,000 people, boosted the region’s economy by more than £16.5m and raised a massive £367k for the hospice’s children and young adults’ service.

Huw Lewis, customer services director of Nexus, which operates the Tyne & Wear Metro, said the company agreed to be headline sponsor for Elmer’s Great North Parade after seeing “a three to one return” on its “substantial investment” in Great North Snowdogs, “which was massive for us.

“And Elmer will be too,” he said, “because it delivers on lots of levels. It inspires interest in the brand, it can drive sales and it is brilliant for staff engagement. It’s also a great way of meeting new people within the business community.”

A recent sign-up to the Parade is The Tyne Tunnels, whose customer operations manager, Chris Ward, said: “We connect communities – and the Elmer trail will embrace that by encouraging people to move around the region in support of very worthwhile cause.”

Now, with less than 100 days to go until the start of Elmer’s Great North Parade, one of the region’s most prominent business figures is urging those, which still haven’t signed up, to get involved.

Addressing the event, James Ramsbotham CBE, chief executive of North East England Chamber of Commerce, said: “There is no better way for the business community to engage with the wider community.

“These elephants will win the hearts and minds of your staff, their families and everyone across the region and they will transform lives – not only of those at the Hospice but those who, through the trail, get and out about to explore our region.”

A handful of locations for the Elmer statues in Newcastle, Gateshead, North and South Tyneside and Sunderland are still up for grabs and Angela Egdell, director of care services at St Oswald’s Hospice, stressed the importance of the business community’s input to the charity’s work.

“Their support is invaluable to us and allows us to continue to support families in the region with very poorly children,” she said. “And it is about so much more than money. By engaging their workforces and highlighting what we do, they are able to reach people that we can’t – they are very kind to us and we are more grateful to them than we can say.”

Sponsorship of an Elmer statue costs £6,250 or £12k for two and details of available sites and designs can be accessed at https://www.stoswaldsuk.org/elmer/elmer-map/.

For more information about Elmer’s Great North Parade, including corporate and sponsorship opportunities, visitwww.greatnorthelmer.co.uk or follow the trail on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #greatnorthelmer.

Elmer’s Great North Parade is being held in conjunction with creative producers Wild in Art, along with Elmer’s publisher Andersen Press and headline trail sponsor Tyne and Wear Metro.