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Map with markers showing where CCC projects took place across the country. Whitley Bay, Northumberland is in the north east and highlighted with a pink marker.

Whitley Bay is a coastal town in the north-east of England, often called Newcastle’s seaside. A once popular holiday resort, it has been in decline since the 1970s.  

Whitley Bay is regenerating into a sought-after town again due partly to its growing reputation as a warm welcoming creative community. 

Here, members of the Creative Civic Change project Whitley Bay Carnival share their experiences of the programme. 

Delivering a year-round arts programme 

Whitley Bay Big Local is a community-led organisation and part of the Big Local programme, funded by Big Lottery Fund and administered by Local Trust. Now into its eighth year, Whitley Bay Big Local delivered a broad range of programmes and activities based on the interests of local people. It created a number of activities for people to both participate in and lead.   

We empower people with gentle, kind support, perhaps some financial assistance to make things happen, and by ensuring that they feel that they belong.”
Whitley Bay Big Local member

For the Creative Civic Change-funded programme, we worked with carnival producers Salto Arts Productions CIO to develop a year-round arts programme. It taught us skills and helped us make local connections, culminating in a showcase of the annual Whitley Bay Community Carnival. 

How creativity changed our community

The Creative Civic Change funding has enabled existing workshops to develop into fully-fledged bands and groups, and sparked our community art space. We were able to run regular arts, music and dance workshops with existing and new community groups, schools and individuals, as well as produce three large community carnivals including a semi-virtual and doorstep carnival.  

During the COVID-19 lockdown, restrictions meant we adapted quickly and produced the ‘Lockdown Carnival’ which we shared as a template for other events later in the year. Online videos encouraged people to work at home, making costumes and home decorations. They also inspired people to join from their gardens or street celebrations, enjoying music and dancing safely. 

Four people in costumes and wearing masks participating in the Whitley Bay carnival

We produced the shimmerlites for our lockdown winter celebration and brought them back in 2021.


Our disco truck with music and performers travelled the area as participants streamed their own performances for the day-long online carnival, which was enjoyed by thousands of people.  

As soon as we were able to, artists set off into the streets to launch the ‘Banners of Hope’ project, working with people in their gardens and the streets to design and make beautiful standards which we display at all our events. 

Carnival clubs bring people together to learn, make, meet new people and feel completely connected to their local community. The diverse groupings have gone some way to demystify and allow unlikely alliances and friendships. We have also been able to support other local arts ventures including Whitley Bay Film Festival, ArtHouses and Poetry Festival.

My teenage grandson and I volunteered as parade stewards…After the carnival we joined the band and met new people. I’ve stuck with it, bought my own drum and love performing and getting involved with keeping the band together.”
Local volunteer

Christine’s story

We have seen many people blossom and grow because of this project, some from reluctant participants into creative leaders. Christine Kennedy, a teaching assistant at one of our schools, joined in workshops before becoming a volunteer.  

She has since retrained herself and set up Whitley Bay Loves Art as well as running art markets virtually and live at Carnival. It was Christine who came up with the idea for a lockdown carnival when COVID-19 hit and she has pushed us to improve our social media. She is now a board member at Salto. 

Looking to the future

To celebrate the success of what we created with Creative Civic Change funding, we commissioned a film to tell the stories of many of the artists and participants of Carnival. We captured the ways in which the community came together.  

Our artists are all part of our community and their learning through working with new specialists has increased their skills. In the interviews we captured, local people share how being a part of the carnival has increased their sense of community and pride in where they live. 

We continue to work with Salto, seeking funding to explore and celebrate the 100-year-old history of carnival in Whitley Bay. Our sewing group and brass band have the momentum to carry on and our drummers are joining up with a sister band to continue. They have recently performed as part of the rugby World Cup celebrations in Newcastle

Salto are fundraising and have secured support from the North of Tyne to produce Carnival 2023, but we are all looking for funding streams to keep the community participation and skills legacy of Carnival running.  

Watch Whitley Bay Carnival come to life