Back in 2010, two teachers from North Shields bought a box. They wanted to help pupils in local schools to find out more about their town and its history, and the Fish Quay in particular, and they planned to fill the box with items that would bring the stories of the past to life.
The teachers, Nina Brown and Jan Taylor, took their box idea to local community group FISH (Folk Interested in Shields Harbour) and to North Tyneside Council – and both backed the project.
Nina and Jan got together with a small group of fellow enthusiasts to help make it happen – naming the project The Net, and the team became ‘The Netties’.
They ran a series of events where they spoke to people from across North Shields about their ideas and their plans got a big ‘thumbs up’.
Meanwhile, work was underway to save the oldest building on the Fish Quay – the Old Low Light – which was in a very poor state.
Supported by North Tyneside Council, and with funds from Tyne & Wear Building Preservation Trust, the Townscape Heritage Initiative and the Coastal Community Fund (CCF), the Grade 2 Listed building was totally renovated and a balcony was added so people could enjoy the spectacular views of the river.
For a while, a few local folk had been thinking about the idea of a heritage centre that would tell the whole story of North Shields, with the Old Low Light as the perfect home. Many of them were the same people the Netties had spoken to about their box and the two ideas eventually came together in a new and more ambitious plan.
The Old Low Light
The Netties needed more help to make the new plan a reality and set about forming a charity, bringing in a keen Board of Trustees with a range of skills, experience and local knowledge. Again the Council were there to offer support.
The charity wanted the local community to decide what the centre would be like so they went out and spoke to a range of local groups to hear their ideas – including naturalists, historians, teachers, fishermen and businesses. The charity’s trustees also visited similar projects close to home and further afield to learn from their experiences.
The group used the funds provided by CCF to bring in professional help too – North of England Civic Trust, lawyers Muckles and accountants Tait Walker worked on the detailed planning and organisation. Architects Ainsworth Spark, building group Kier and others worked on the renovations. Design company GBDM took the ideas from the community and worked closely with the trustees and local groups to make sure it was as they wanted it.
The trustees appointed a Manager, Deputy Manager and Caretaker to run the project day to day – and then began recruiting a large volunteer force to work alongside them. This is ongoing – check out the Volunteers section for more information.
The Old Low Light finally opened its doors for business in October 2014 with a cafe, shop and top floor venue hire. The middle floor gallery, telling the story of the Fish Quay, opened at the end of March 2015. With the help of Sumo Design the project was rebranded as Old Low Light.