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Exhibition: Michael Smith – Fisherman Painter (30 July – 30 September)

Exhibitions to mark 120thanniversary of North Shields Fishermen’s Mission

Two exhibitions to mark the 120thanniversary of the North Shields Fishermen’s Mission are on display during August and September at the Old Low Light Heritage Centre on the Fish Quay.

Both have been organised by retired fishermen, one setting out the story of the Fishermen’s Mission which has been on the Fish Quay supporting the fishing community since 1899 and the other displaying a wide range of maritime paintings.

The first highlights some of the tragedies that have beset fishing crews. At such times, after death or injury at sea, the Fishermen’s Mission provides welfare and support to fishermen and women and their families. It also provides financial support at other times of difficulty.

An important role is to provide facilities for visiting fishing crews, who can use the Crew Hoos which opened at the Mission four years ago, for showers, laundry, the internet and a game of pool.

North Shields is England’s biggest prawn port and the busiest port between Peterhead in the north and Brixham on the south coast. The busiest time is the prawn fishing season from October to April when there are around 70 boats in the harbour including from Northern Ireland, Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Stornoway and Denmark.

Superintendent Peter Dade covers an area along the North East coast from Amble down to Redcar. He celebrated his 27thanniversary with the Fishermen’s Mission earlier this month and has been in his present post for 10 years.

He said: “We offer a lifeline of welfare and support to the local fishing community at times of extreme difficulties in their lives and over the years we have dealt with many tragedies at sea. For more than six months of the year we provide facilities for visiting crews who often spend weeks away from their home ports.

“All of this is made possible with the support of retired fishermen and volunteers who give their time to raise awareness of our work and to help raise funds.”

The Fishermen’s Mission does not receive government or lottery funding. It depends on voluntary donations and legacy giving.

The second exhibition is a collection of paintings by local maritime artist and retired fisherman Mike Smith. These include scenes from his working life at sea, while others portray the hard life experienced by many in the fishing industry. There are some showing ‘herring girls’ who used to follow the herring fleet along the coast from Scotland, stopping off at ports to gut the fish.

He said: “Most of my working life was at sea, in the Merchant Navy, the Marine Police and then for 35 years I worked on a prawn boat out of North Shields. I’ve been painting since I was young and all of my work is about maritime life.”

Over the years he has had many exhibitions including at Northumbria University and at three galleries in Norway. He is a strong supporter of lifeboat services having donated paintings to a number of local lifeboat stations to help with fundraising efforts.

He added: “I am very pleased to be involved in the celebrations for the North Shields Fishermen’s Mission. I hope that by visiting the exhibitions, local people enjoy finding out more about the important part that the Mission plays in the life of the fishing community and about the industry itself.”

Exhibitions are open daily and entrance is £3 (free for Old Low Light members). Please note that the paintings are on the upper floor in the heritage centre, which is sometimes used for other purposes so if you a planning a special visit, ring (0191 257 4506) to check access.

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