As we approach the end of 2021, we have much to be proud about.
Although the centre was closed for first three months of the year, much work was ongoing behind the scenes. Our priorities were to make sure we could stay afloat financially, improve our online communications and ensure that we had a new exhibition, events and activities to offer visitors safely when we reopened the heritage gallery and cafe. We were also refreshing our safety plan, having sought views of staff, volunteers, members and regular visitors.
In April, we opened for community groups and launched a much-needed new website, designed as a charitable contribution by Newcastle communications studio Altogether, for which are very grateful. It means we can do more digital promotional activity, broaden our online content to a wider audience, provide updates much more quickly on all our activities and people can also now book events online.
At the same time, a small team of volunteers, supported by our centre director, Guy Moody, were working on a new exhibition in the Heritage Gallery “That’s Women’s Work”, about women past and present who have worked in fishing and maritime industries and a programme of events.
In June we began the first outdoor events, with volunteers leading guided walks for a limited number of people around the fish quay. We also raised the funds to pay for our new exhibition, by hosting two plant sales outside the Old Low Light, as well as sales in the gardens of volunteers.
A big consideration over the past two years has been future finances as prolonged periods of closure and operating within restrictions has depleted our reserves. However, we were delighted and relieved in June when our application to the Sir James Knott Trust for funding to help pay staff salaries was successful. We were awarded £24,000 by the Trust, set up almost 100 years ago by the North Shields shipping magnate, entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Then, with the support of returning volunteers, we were able to reopen the café and heritage centre to the public four days a week from July. This was extended to five days a week in September, thanks to the influx of new volunteers who answered our recruitment calls over the summer.
Since reopening, the new exhibition has been very popular, attracting a steady flow of visitors and coverage on social media, local radio, TV, and local, regional and national newspapers and magazines. Both the exhibition and supporting events, have included significant involvement by the community, including those who knitted around 300 fish, part of a centrepiece in the gallery, those who gave photographs and information about mothers and grandmothers who worked around the fish quay over the years and those who shared their own stories.
Following consultation with the public, we decided it was safe to re-start indoor events from September for limited socially distanced audiences. Our first talk since March 2020 was on 25 September and celebrated Sir James Knott, who’s foundation made such a generation donation to our charity earlier in the year. Since then almost every event we have scheduled has had a full audience in a safe setting.
Although 2021 has at times been difficult, the ongoing determination and commitment of volunteers, staff, trustees, the regular groups who re-started their sessions in the centre as soon as they were able to and the very many other loyal supporters of the Old Low Light have meant that we continue to be an asset to the community. While it is clear that the virus is going to be with us for a while yet and that the coming weeks could see some challenges with the new variant, we look forward to providing the people of North Shields and beyond with an interesting programme of exhibitions, events and activities during 2022.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their ongoing support and wish you all a peaceful Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.
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