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A space for community: A green future for Whitley Bay

10 Feb 2022

In this episode, our partnerships manager Georgie visits Whitley Bay to find out how a former job centre is helping to incubate plans for a greener future.

Ten miles east of Newcastle, on the northeast coast of England, is the seaside town Whitley Bay.

Formerly a thriving tourist hot spot known for its funfair and latterly its nightlife, it was a destination that attracted families and then partygoers at all times of year from across the country and beyond.   

Over the past two decades, however, the tourism industry has declined, and a relative wave of gentrification in some parts of the town has changed Whitley Bay. South Parade, the once popular party strip, now boasts boarded up buildings where lively bars and nightclubs once were, and many of the buildings in recent years have been used as temporary accommodation for people experiencing homelessness or leaving prison.   

A changing place

However, the tide is turning in Whitley Bay, boarded up buildings are becoming fewer, and in some parts, property prices are skyrocketing, creating a mix of demographics in the town. 

Whitley Bay Big Local was created after the area received funding through the National Lottery Funded Big Local programme. A resident-led group, they look to improve the area and the lives of people living there through asking people what they want for Whitley Bay and setting up projects and services in response.   

At the heart of much of their work is a lively community hub, just a stone’s throw from the high street, a building that used to be the local job centre, and before that, a printworks. As you enter the building a community fridge is stocked full of donated goods from local stores, operating on a pay what you can basis, but cleverly placed out of view of the main throng of the hub so those in need can retain some anonymity. Inside there is a warm buzz, and on any one day you might find a craft group, mother and baby sessions, coffee mornings, children’s acting classes, bike workshops, art classes and much more – in short, there really is something for everyone.   

Securing a future

Since moving into the building in late 2019, the space has been an undeniable asset for the local community and so it was time to celebrate when, in November 2021, Whitley Bay became one of just 21 places across the country to receive funding through the first wave of the government’s Community Ownership Fund. The success marked the close of a long chapter in Whitley Bay Big Local’s journey, who, before taking a lease on this building had temporarily occupied two other buildings across the town to run their clubs and activities from.

Now in their ownership, the group have big plans for their building; with a vision not only to serve their community now, but to make a hub fit for the future as they embark on retrofitting the building to create a community eco hub. Plans are in their infancy and will be informed by residents, but they hope it will be a place that can help educate people about climate and the environment, supporting the community’s efforts in the adaptations and mitigations needed in responding to the climate emergency, whilst simultaneously operating as a low carbon entity.   

Aside from the obvious enjoyment and sense of community created in the building, you can tell it is a place you could go if you ever felt lonely or needed to see a friendly face.   

On the morning we visited, the hub along with half of Whitley Bay, was experiencing a power cut…but that did not dampen spirits!