Nov 19, 2017 Last Updated 2:18 PM, Nov 16, 2017

Why The Word is instrumental when it comes to South Shields' regeneration

Published in Upfront
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The opening of South Tyneside Council’s The Word, National Centre for the Written Word, is simply the first phase of a hugely ambitious plan to regenerate South Shields’ town centre and transform the fortunes of this once thriving North East town.

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South Tyneside Council’s 365 masterplan in brief:

•Provide an enhanced market offer
•Create a town centre which has stronger connectivity
•Provide a new central consolidated travel interchange
• Improve the retail and leisure offer in the town
•Enhance the town centre environment to increase dwell time

Muse Developments will work with the council to deliver the £100m vision over the next 10 years to ensure that, in 20 years from now, South Shields will be:

•An attractive and vibrant town, recognised nationally as a place where people will choose to live, do business, visit and spend their holiday time •A place where the quality of life and place will attract investment and has a range of services and activities, which are second to none.

David Wells, Regional Director of Muse Developments, South Tyneside Council’s development partner, explains how the building, which has just been nominated in three separate categories for the RICS NE regional awards – Community Benefit, Design Through Innovation and Tourism & Leisure – is not just an iconic destination in its own right but also the tip of an iceberg when it comes to the future plans for South Shields.

“The Word opened to national acclaim in October last year and has already welcomed over 150,000 visitors in its first four months. Designed by Newcastle-based FaulknerBrowns Architects, with Bowmer & Kirkland as main contractor, the three-storey, circular cultural centre overlooks the town’s refurbished Market Place and incorporates a library and digitial media space. It also boasts an impressive range of facilities including exhibition space, a computer gaming area, a FabLab with 3D printers and vinyl and laser cutters, digitised archives, meeting rooms, children’s immersive storytelling area, OpenZone IT suite, cafe and a rooftop space and terrace providing stunning views over the river.

“It cost £16m and offers an inspirational and exciting celebration of the written word through a rolling programme of high-quality exhibitions (the first celebrated the life and work of locally-born Sir Ridley Scott with scripts, props and models from both his advertising career and as a famous Director of international blockbuster movies such as Alien and Gladiator), events and workshops in addition to fulfilling a traditional library service with some 72,000 books.

“The ‘wow’ reaction from everyone who has entered The Word so far sums up this stunning building. We’re delighted to be part of this exciting regeneration programme and with the first phase complete with The Word and refurbished Market Place now open for business, we’re already busy with planning for phase two, the transport interchange, and future phases that will deliver new leisure and retail facilities to the town centre.

“The overall redevelopment also makes The Word more accessible from the town centre, the foreshore and the riverside, which is a priority in the overall plan for the town. Collectively, these three areas provide a broad and exciting offer of commercial, leisure, cultural and retail opportunities for residents, visitors and businesses. This mix gives South Shields a unique offer, unrivalled amongst other coastal towns of a similar size in the North East and the overall regeneration plans capitalise on that.

“Designed, and on track, to achieve an 'Excellent' accreditation from BREEAM, the terracotta panel-clad building features three floors around a central atrium linked by a feature staircase and lifts. 33 weeks of the 70-week construction period were taken up with the 1500m3 concrete structure whilst over half a million man hours were worked on the whole project. 80% of all work was delivered by local contractors (based within 40 miles of the site) and 99% of all construction waste generated was diverted from traditional landfill and recycled.

“Significantly, however, impressive though The Word may be (and it is, hugely…!) it is just part of the first phase of the 365 Regeneration Plan, our partnership with South Tyneside Council to regenerate South Shields’ town centre. This first phase, which included the wholesale refurbishment of the town’s adjacent Market Place, has already had a tremendously beneficial effect on the riverside area of the town, drawing visitors and local people to the venue which occupies a stunning location overlooking the River Tyne to the north.

“The 365 Regeneration Plan will eventually link the three areas of the riverside, town centre and foreshore to provide a broad and exciting offer of commercial, leisure, cultural and retail opportunities for residents, visitors and businesses. This mix gives South Shields a unique offer, unrivalled amongst other coastal towns of a similar size in the North East and the regeneration will capitalise on that.

“Background work is now well underway for phase two of the plan – the construction of a new transport interchange which will bring the town’s Metro and bus services together for the first time, but which is a more complicated proposal involving many other parties and a huge amount of preparatory infrastructure.”

Councillor Iain Malcolm, Leader of South Tyneside Council, added: “The first phase of South Shields 365, with the construction of The Word and remodelling of the Market Place, was actually relatively straightforward as we were developing on land already controlled by the council. Along with our partners, Muse Developments, we have also been conducting complex negotiations to acquire land and relocate businesses, as well as planning the infrastructure works required for future phases.

“The Word’s opening in October heralded a new lease of life for South Shields and the start of an incredible journey. The whole of the town centre will be transformed over the next 10 to 15 years as part of our 365 masterplan, with The Word acting as a catalyst for private sector investment.

“What we are already seeing more of is ‘consequential regeneration’, where the council’s investment in the town centre stimulates private sector confidence and investment. Initiatives like Colmans Seafood Temple on the foreshore and the forthcoming Nexus rail skills centre are indicative of the increasing optimism around the town. We are now talking to a variety of organisations about how they can take advantage of the regeneration.”

South Tyneside Council’s partnership with Muse Developments has delivered a new icon for the North East region with the circular form of The Word ranking alongside the Angel of the North, the Millennium Bridge and the Sage, to name just few of the region’s landmarks, in terms of dramatic additions to the urban landscape. The building is a triumph in both form and function as its visitor figures are already proving, and the council and regeneration specialist, Muse Developments, are proving that this partnership of public spending and private investment not only works here, but can prove a workable model for regeneration projects elsewhere.

For more information about the regeneration of South Shields and the 365 masterplan, please go to the website.

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