Brining back the good times in Whitley Bay

PUBLISHED: 08:33 01 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:07 20 February 2013

Photograph by North East Life reader Kevin Whitehead, of Durham City

Photograph by North East Life reader Kevin Whitehead, of Durham City

Famed for its 'miles of curving, golden sand,' there's an awful lot of optimism about in the seaside town of Whitley Bay

Shopping in Whitley Bay is surprisingly diverse and vibrant - from antique shops and galleries, to high class boutiques and specialist stores, as well as the regular chains.
Chair of Whitley Bay Chamber of Trade is Karen Goldfinch - believed to be the first female chair (certainly in recent memory) - and a keen promoter of all things Whitley Bay.
Karen has 20 years retail management experience in both large city centre department stores, and local high street shops. Owner of Made to Treasure, a gift and wedding shop in the centre of town, which she started in 2002, Karen wants to make sure Whitley Bay is recognised as a destination to go to for the wide range of mainly independent businesses it offers.
The Chamber was revitalised in the last year or so and has an enthusiastic band of members, determined to give a younger slant on the regeneration of
the town.
The number of independent shops in Whitley Bay is one of its strengths, said Karen. And we enjoy a tremendous loyalty from our customers, which is testament to the service they enjoy.
You can buy anything in the town - from babywear upwards. There is no doubt things are changing and were seeing new life and ideas springing up.
The Chamber of Trade and North Tyneside Council were partners (along with a property consultant) in the shopfront initiative earlier this year, when the first fake shop front - painted as a delicatessen - was put up to cover the front of an empty unit.
It was hoped the slick graphic design of the fake deli would inspire other businesses, and attract new business to the town centre, where, like many others, there were a number of empty shops.
It certainly seems to have worked. Because of the great publicity the scheme received, Karen said she believes every empty unit now has some interested in it.
Its great news and were continuing to work with the Council on improving things in the town.
Businessman Mick Farwell, who owns the Avalon Hotel and Bar and the Trojan Rooms in Whitley Bay is also keen to promote the good things the town has to offer.
He is chairman of Pub Watch, which works with town centre bars and the police to try and make Whitley Bay a safer, more attractive place to go out in, and to get away from the stag and hen party image.
Things are getting better, said
Mick, and its important to get away from the failures of the past and look
to the future.
Mick is also organising something very new for Whitley Bay this month. On May 13, 14 and 15 there will be the first ever Reggae and Ska festival at the Trojan Rooms, which has attracted huge interest from all over the country - and as far away as Jamaica.
I love reggae and ska music and wanted to put something different on for the people of the town and to attract visitors here. If its successful, Id like to make it a regular event.
Whitley Bay also has a its own Culture Quarter, a not for profit organisation, dedicated to creating, supporting and showcasing arts and culture in Whitley Bay, transforming the town and making it a vibrant and exciting place to live, work and play.
CQs wider aim is to work as a framework for local residents, artists
and practitioners with experience and interests in the arts develop their
own ideas and to help them achieve
their goals.
Director, Toby Bridges, said: Last year we organised a range of events from folk to literature and drama and attracted 5,000 people to them, the most successful being the re-opening of the Playhouse which had over 1,000 people attend in itself.
We have also helped a group of local people to set up their own theatre company, Day8 Productions which has a strong emphasis on encouraging youth theatre and education for all in the dramatic arts and sees it producing Jesus Christ Superstar in July for adults and Bugsy Malone for kids in November.
Later in the year CQ will develop a plan with Day8 and Heritage Lottery to put on a traditional music hall event, a staple of the Empress Theatre and Dome in its heyday, that will see professional and amateurs come together.
Parallel to this production and in combination with Tyne and Wear Museums Service, CQ will provide an education programme for this theatrical form for local schools.


Driving Force


Improving life in Whitley Bay is the driving force behind the setting up of the Whitley Bay Development Trust.
They have ambitious plans aimed at changing the face of the town and making it a better, more attractive place to live work and visit.
The Trust was formed early this year and is determined to provide new direction, facilities and opportunities to encourage inward investment, turning round years of slow deterioration in parts of what was a proud seaside town.
They also launched a website www.whitleybaydevelopmenttrust.org which details the aims of the organisation and urges residents and friends of the town to get involved.
The trust Chief Executive is Christine Savage, who said: The website is there to let people know what can be done to revitalise Whitley Bay and, through the website, they can have a say in what they believe needs to be done.
We have had a number of encouraging comments, which is
really gratifying and shows people are really interested in changing the face
of the town.
She said there had been an overwhelmingly positive response to the launch of the trust.
Hundreds of residents, former residents and visitors - some from overseas - have contacted the trust or have been to one of its open meetings to voice support for the trust and its plans to regenerate the town and bring in new jobs and opportunities.
We are thrilled at the overwhelmingly positive responses to the Trust and the plans it is developing.
The message we are getting through the "Your View" section on our website, through word of mouth and through the open meetings and exhibitions we are holding is: thank goodness someone is doing something at last.
One website message came from Tennessee, USA, and said: I grew up in Whitley Bay many years ago, visiting over the years. It will be wonderful if you can get it up and running again.
A current Whitley Bay resident said: Sounds like an exciting venture and great to see it led by someone other than a public body - will look in with interest.
And another, describing himself as an exile said: I spent the first 35 years of my life in Whitley Bay. I visited the town ten years ago and was dismayed by the deterioration in what was once a thriving borough. I welcome this initiative as a step in the right direction.
The trust chairman is Bill Midgley OBE, former President of the British Chambers of Commerce, who said it was important that people understood that the trust directors stood to reap no personal gain.
We are not doing this for us. Were responding to the needs of the town,
not dictating to people, which is why
we would like to hear what people have to say.
Mr Midgley, who is a former President of British Chambers of Commerce, went on: There is a need for business units and for more opportunities for entrepreneurs and young people in the town. We want those with entrepreneurial and other skills to stay in Whitley Bay and help it grow again.
Ms Savage said that people would soon be able buy a stake in the Trust and in the towns future.
She stressed that the trust was non-political and not affiliated to any party.
She added: What we feel is that there is no-one speaking up for Whitley Bay, and we want to move forward as quickly as we can to make a difference.
Whitley Bay has been allowed to deteriorate over a long period of time and we want to help reverse that trend. We believe there are a lot of people in the town - and people who have close associations with it - who want to see it prosper and grow again.
The trusts directors comprise Christine Savage, accountant Gavin Hennessey, company director Toby Bridges, former Chief Executive of Newcastle Building Society Bill Midgley, and local businessman and entrepreneur Paul Irwin.
As part of the consultation with residents and the towns business community, the trust has now set up a Stakeholders Group.
The member of the stakeholders group come from all over the area and all have a direct interest in Whitley Bay, said Mrs Savage.
They range from captains of industry, local entrepreneurs and business people, educational leaders and the leaders of public bodies.
They are helping us by giving us their views and advice. But we also want to hear from others through the website. The Trust is a partnership with everyone who has a real interest in Whitley Bay and its future, said Mrs Savage.
She said those who have already been in touch through the website would receive a reply, but may not have done so yet because of the amount of interest.
We are very pleased to know that the people of Whitley Bay - and a lot of other people too - are prepared to support us. We already have a number of plans in the pipeline and hope to be able to announce the first project to create new business opportunities in the centre of town within weeks.
These include creating new business units in the centre of the town and a hand in redeveloping the famous Spanish City, which has fallen into sad disuse and decay over the past few years.
But the trust members and others like them are determined to Whitley Bay back on the map.



Those who remember the good times in Whitley Bay, will remember its iconic postmark slogan - Miles of Curving, Golden Sand; Whitley Bay, Northumberland - which adorned outgoing mail for ten years in the 1960s and 70s.
Well, it looks like the good times may be coming back.
Whitley Bay - now in Tyne and Wear - has a place in the hearts of many who visited in those days, and its easy to continually hark back to its heydays and bemoan their passing.
But, unlike some towns, Whitley Bay still has a deal of optimism and forward thinking. Its had its fair share of difficulties and problems, but it still has a great array of independent shops, restaurants and arts outlets and some very attractive places to live.

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