A fantastic year at The Word

2019 has been another great year for The Word and as the year draws to a close, we are reflecting on some of the great achievements, events and exhibitions we’ve had and look forward to what’s to come in 2020.

January 2019, saw the end of our hugely popular Monsters! The Good, The Bad and the Cuddly exhibition, which over its nine month span, welcomed over 200,000 visitors and was a phenomenal hit with youngsters and families, especially due to our full-sized cuddly replica of Sulley from Monsters, Inc.

Moving into February we launched our new exhibition, Cracked! Secret Codes and Communication, which explored methods of communications used throughout time, from secret communication during war times to modern technology used today. The exhibition space also featured ‘When the Bugle Calls’, a touring exhibition from the DLI Collection.

At the same time, we opened our new Word Bank of Lost Dialects exhibition which celebrated the thousands of North East Dialect words donated during our original Lost Dialects exhibition. The exhibition was curated by artists Jane Glennie and Robert Good who indexed all 2,400 words and phrases. Visitors could explore more about the interesting words donated and their meanings and vote for their favourite. (Don’t forget you only have until 5 January to see it!).

Shirt Tales, which also launched early in the year, was an exhibition in our Ground Floor Pod created by artist and tailor Richard Bliss. Richard designed and hand-made five shirts which captured the feelings and ideas that he experienced when reading the work of five authors – Venerable Bede, Phillis Wheatley, Lewis Carroll, Elinor Brent-Dyer and Julia Darling.

We started the year working on a fantastic project in partnership with South Shields Football Club which promoted literacy through sport. Pupils from local primary schools attended SSFC matches and then came to The Word to write and record their match day experience. At the end of the project, in April, the pupils were invited back to The Word to celebrate the project and their achievements.

Over the Easter weekend we were delighted to welcome our one millionth visitor to the building, just two and half years after opening. And then, just a few weeks later, we held our third WRITE Festival which was a great success, with two weeks of writing workshops, author talks and performances, celebrating the written word in all its forms. The events included: a talk with Michael Rosen and Kevin Maguire, a readers’ and writers’ day with local crime writers, including Ann Cleeves, a performance from Charles Dickens’ great great grandson, Gerald Dickens, a talk by TV historian John Grundy and many more. We also had a fantastic poet-in-residence, Rowan McCabe, who wrote seven new poems about South Tyneside and we created our first WRITE Festival anthology with 30 upbeat short stories that were submitted as part of a writing competition.

As summer arrived we enjoyed months of Space-themed fun, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing with our new ‘Amazing Space’ exhibition and a jam-packed programme of intergalactic fun. We held a Space Takeover Day on the official anniversary with various events taking place throughout the building, including Big Bang Science Party, storytelling with Simon Bartram – author of Bob, The Man on the Moon, Space t-shirt art, laser cutting in FabLab and more.

In August, we took part in Elmer’s Great North Parade, a Wild in Art event in support of St. Oswald’s Hospice, and welcomed Elmer Armstrong to The Word. Various Elmer’s, created by artists, were placed in multiple locations around the region from August to November, visitors travelled to get their photos with the Elmer’s and tick them off their trail list. We also hosted the launch event on behalf of St. Oswald’s Hospice which saw the final little Elmer travel across the river from North Shields to join the rest of its herd to mark the official start of the trail.

We celebrated the 25th anniversary of The Customs House pantomime with an exhibition in our Ground Floor Pod which opened in September. This features details of panto traditions, the writing of the script, as well as panto performers and the designing of the costumes and set. We are also delighted to have one of the costumes created by award-winning designer Paul Shriek on display.

Recently, FabLab @ The Word commissioned an artist-in-residence, Laura Jones, to run participatory workshops every Saturday, with each month being themed around a popular children’s tale. Children and families can create items based on the Book of the Month, Laura will then use the designs created to develop an art installation to be displayed at The Word in April 2020.

We commission a film, ‘The Place We Love’, specifically for those living with Dementia, produced by Tom Kelly and Unified Films who worked closely with Alzheimer’s Society and South Tyneside Libraries. Inspired by our original Lost Dialects exhibition, the film explores traditional North East words, phrases and songs and takes viewers on the journey of Tom’s life, visiting buildings and areas of South Tyneside which were important to him over the years. The aim was to prompt a memory for those people living with dementia and to encourage carers to ask questions which may bring memories back to life.

As we entered the final part of the year, we were delighted to be awarded Best Programme at a Venue in the Living North Awards 2019 – a fantastic achievement and the perfect end to a wonderful year, which wouldn’t have been possible without the support of all our visitors.

We look forward to what’s to come in 2020 and bringing you even more great events, projects and exhibitions. We hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


The Word