Review of the Year 2023.

Review of Year

We approach 2024 with optimism for the future and plans in place for a full programme of activities.

This is despite a difficult year and one that we will not forget, not least because our chair – and greatest champion – David W Bavaird, had to step back due to an illness from which he later passed away.

David made such a significant contribution, always encouraging and guiding, even from the earliest days, when the centre was just a dream, that his loss has been sorely felt. We owe him a debt of gratitude and miss him very much.

Although David was involved with many local organisations, the Old Low Light was a special place for him, so we thought it only fitting to name our top floor the ‘David W Bavaird community room’ in his memory.

We also know that what he would really want us to do is succeed and over the year, despite financial worries, we have focused on building on his strong legacy.


In spring we received a welcome £2,000 from Asda and a £4,000 grant from the RW Mann Trust. This combined with £10,000 from the Sir James Knott Trust, helped us to overcome dramatic price rises at the start of the year, but we knew it only bought us time. So, we have focused on sourcing and applying to potential funders and ‘working smart’ – which means doing everything possible to maximise our profits and minimise our losses, including continuing with reduced opening times.

Thankfully, in 2023 our own income has steadily increased, and in recent months some of our grant applications have been successful, allowing us to make plans for the year ahead.

In November the Barbour Foundation awarded us £4,000 and The National Lottery Community Fund awarded £5,000 in 2023 and £21,000 a year for each of the next five years to support staffing costs. We received £15,000 from the Garfield Weston Trust and £5,000 from the Community Foundation, both to help with running costs. The Mouth of Tyne Collective is providing funding for five music events and North Tyneside Council has designated the centre as a ‘warm space’, which also comes with money.

Alongside grant funding our own charitable, commercial activities and smart working plans have continued to generate more than 70% of the income required to sustain the Old Low Light. The time, energy and effort of volunteers at the heritage centre have helped us generate £128,000 in 2023 through sales in our café, shop, room hire, admissions and membership scheme and events programme.

This financial success and support is wonderful and provides a welcome buffer, but we must continue to operate as efficiently as possible and do all we can to reduce losses. The fact remains that it costs £430 every day we are open, and our income works out at £440 a day. So, our finances are still finely balanced.

Despite pressures, we have had a full events programme with visitor numbers increasing to well 31,000 – more than 10 per cent up on 2022. Events have included:

  • An expanded talks programme, including some on Tuesdays as well as the regular Saturday heritage talks.
  • Two new exhibitions – one by Northern Threads which attracted 8,000 visitors over a two-month period and the other, the Merchant Navy, Tyneside Stories, researched, designed, and curated by our own volunteers which is also proving to be very popular.
  • A display of marine paintings and model boats by retired fishermen, who also ran events at the Boy James Coble, explaining about traditional fishing.
  • Regular guided walks from Clifford’s Fort, as well as a new heritage walk in Preston Village.
  • Several stitching and willow weaving workshops.
  • Three classic concerts featuring top-class musicians, music events by community groups and regular music sessions in the café.

A highlight of the year was the ‘sea of poppies’ project involving several poppy making sessions, as well as people knitting and crocheting poppies at home. This resulted in over 3,000 poppies for a fabulous display outside the centre in the run up to Remembrance Sunday.

Our green-fingered volunteers and friends held two successful plant sales, which along with a very generous donation from some friends of the Old Low Light, who have Merchant Navy connections, helped to pay for our current exhibition.

We have been pleased to work with Keith Barrett, the artist commissioned by the council to create a public sculpture of Mary Ann Macham, the escaped enslaved woman whose story we told in our 2019 Breaking Chains exhibition.

Our friends from FLOW continue to meet here two days a week, we have mindfulness and yoga sessions as well as other meetings by the council and community groups.

We have also had a busy year with school visits, some just coming to find out more about the history, heritage and wildlife of the fish quay and others focusing on specific projects such as the Tyne in Tudor times.

We begin 2024 with plans for an expanded talks programme and some exciting music events, once again providing a venue for musicians who are also at home on national and international stages, as well as an afternoon of North East traditional songs by a popular community group. We hope it will not be too long before we can announce some new guided walks and craft workshops.

Finally, while we have much to look forward to, we know we could not do any of this without the steadfast support of our volunteers, members, and others in the local community. So, thank-you to everyone. We wish you all a happy and healthy 2024 and hope to see you soon.

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