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Our digital media space is boosting tourism in South Shields

  • Comment

One of South Tyneside’s key strengths is tourism, as it is located on the gateway to the River Tyne and the North East coastline.

  • Project: The Word, the National Centre for the Written Word (part of South Shields 365)
  • Objectives: Re-provision of existing central library service and OpenZone ICT facility, co-locating with other council services; create a visitor offer that brings people to the town centre
  • Timescale: Planning permission granted October 2014, start on site April 2015, open to the public October 2016
  • Cost to authority: £18m
  • Number of staff working on project: 39 directly employed staff. The Word is also able to access resources from wider council services. As it is part of the council it draws down on existing back office systems such as communications, marketing, tourism, support services and so on
  • Outcomes: In the first three months the building attracted well over 110,000 visitors and the Ridley Scott exhibition over 58,000
  • Officer contact details: Martin Swales

We attract around two million visitors each year and that figure is increasing annually thanks to our sustained investment programme. The council has set a target to increase visitor spending from £12 per visit to at least £22, moving consistently toward the Great Britain average of £34 per visit. Against the backdrop of significant economic challenges over the last six years, we have maintained an unwavering focus on economic growth and regeneration for the long term. We are capturing the imagination and confidence of the private sector to invest.

The Word, National Centre for the Written Word, forms part of South Shields 365, a £100m redevelopment of South Shields town centre as part of our strategy to position South Shields as a premier coastal resort 365 days of the year.

Martin swales web

Martin swales web

Martin Swales

Local government has long been recognised for its role as custodian of an area’s heritage and culture. Growing or even sustaining the cultural offer has been a challenge for many councils, grappling to reconcile funding reductions and demand pressures with a growing expectation from increasingly discerning visitors. Yet, investment in cultural institutions can play an enormously important role in stimulating wider economic growth. This has been proven across many towns and cities both in the UK and overseas and now in South Shields.

The opening of The Word marks the completion of the first phase of South Shields 365. Blending tradition with technology, The Word, which incorporates a library and digital media space, is designed to appeal to all age groups who will benefit from thousands of new books as well as a feast of interactive experiences.

Our first challenge was to replace the existing town centre library as the building was no longer fit for purpose. As part of the council’s asset management and efficiency strategy we needed a 21st century library that would act as a physical catalyst in the regeneration and reconnection of our town centre and riverside. We recognised quite early that the library offer needed to contribute to our strategic outcomes for learning, skills and social inclusion as well as our tourism offer.

As a result, The Word is much more than a library. It is a cultural centre, which incorporates an impressive range of facilities including a children’s immersive storytelling area; IT suite; computer gaming area; a laboratory with 3D printers, vinyl and laser cutters; digitised archives; meeting rooms; and a café. The underpinning theme is an exciting and inspirational celebration of the written word through a rolling programme of high-quality exhibitions, events and workshops.

Within days of opening, The Word attracted thousands of visitors to South Shields town centre, many of whom have never visited the town.

The word south tyneside web

The word south tyneside web


We have created an attraction that acts as both a centrepiece and catalyst in our 20-year investment programme. Our similar approach in neighbouring Hebburn town centre, with the opening of Hebburn Central in 2015, is now paying dividends with private sector investment in the town centre and surrounding housing offer increasing substantially.

Longer term, our South Shields 365 programme aims to connect the three distinct areas of the riverside, town centre and seafront, providing visitors with a seamless offer whilst retaining the individual character and function of each area.

Along with the regeneration of the riverside at Harton Quay and new promenade and leisure facility at Haven Point, The Word is another significant milestone in the £1bn investment programme across South Tyneside. It forms part of an incredible story in the redevelopment of South Shields, which will be transformed over the next 10 years. Now we’re turning our attention to a state of the art transport interchange, 115,000 sq ft of new retail units, a cinema, family restaurants and broader leisure offer, shaping a substantial visitor offer for future generations.

The Word is supported by Arts Council England, Port of Tyne and BT.

Martin Swales, chief executive, South Tyneside MBC


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