It’s hard to believe it has been a year since we opened our flagship cultural venue, The Word, National Centre for the Written Word.
And what a superb year it has been.
We were never in any doubt that this fantastic building was going to prove hugely popular with residents and visitors, but I don’t think any of us could have predicted how phenomenally successful its first year would be.
The long queue snaking its way around the Market Place on October 22 last year revealed just how eager people were to get a first glimpse of the new facility. And it wasn’t just beginner’s luck!
The enthusiasm hasn’t waned; almost 400,000 people have now visited the striking building and the Port of Tyne exhibition space has welcomed 172,000.
We recognised some time ago that for libraries to survive, they had to evolve. That’s why The Word is so much more than a library; it’s a fantastic, cultural community space that appeals to people of all ages.
And we’re reaping the benefits of that foresight; library memberships among young and old have seen staggering increases, as has book borrowing.
This stunning building stands on the site of a former 1960s eyesore, and we’ll soon be seeing similar transformation elsewhere in the town centre.
We’re about to embark on a programme of demolitions to facilitate construction of the new Transport Interchange, which will start next Spring.
Following that, there will be new retail and leisure development, including a cinema, all of which will consolidate South Tyneside’s visitor offer.
The Word marked the end of Phase One of South Shields 365 – but just the beginning of South Shields’ journey.