Multi-Million Pound Cultural Venue Welcomes First Visitors
Thousands of people got their eagerly-awaited first glimpse of The Word, National Centre for the Written Word, when it officially opened on Saturday.
People queued in South Shields Market Place to ensure they were among the first through the doors of the stunning cultural venue.
The multi-million pound centre welcomed visitors on the opening day, with over 750 people clamouring for a look inside the striking circular building in the first hour alone.
Lookalike characters from fiction including Willy Wonka, the Mad Hatter and Beatrix Potter mingled with guests who explored the impressive facilities which include library and 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 and a café.
There is plenty to do this half term at The Word. People can have a selfie with the 7ft alien at the Ridley Scott exhibition, leave a "lost word" at the word bank as part of the Lost Dialects exhibition or take the Lost Dialect quiz. Parents and children under seven can also enjoy an immersive story experience listening to The Wicked Witch who Stole Words as part of this week's half term family fun.
The Word's opening marks the end of phase one of the £100m South Shields 365 regeneration masterplan being delivered by South Tyneside Council and its partner, Muse Developments Ltd.
Cllr Iain Malcolm, Leader of South Tyneside Council, said: "It's hard to believe that construction of The Word started just 18 months ago.
"Since then we've watched this striking building gradually taking shape until its opening today.
"This is a momentous and proud day which heralds a new lease of life for South Shields town centre. 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.
"I think everyone who has visited this weekend will agree what a fantastic facility this is, not just for local residents, but for people from far and wide."
Sharlene Irving from South Shields queued with her two granddaughters Leila and Heidi Hughes before the doors were opened.
She said: "Leila has been watching this building the whole time it was being built and has been dying to see inside. She absolutely loves books but there is so much more than books on offer here.
"It is fabulous and the old Central Library just doesn't even compare."
Irene Ford, who visited the venue with daughter Gillian Tebble, said: "It is amazing, the building is so light and airy and there are some beautiful views over the river,
"I think this is just the kick start the town needs. It is right next to the ferry landing and the Metro so I think it really will draw people into Shields."
The venue offers an exciting and inspirational celebration of the written word through a rolling programme of high quality exhibitions, events and workshops.
Best-selling author Ann Cleeves, writer of the Vera and Shetland novels, visited The Word last week.
She said: "It is so forward thinking of South Tyneside Council to open this brilliant building which will be the envy of every local authority in the UK. I hope it will show other local authorities that this is the way to go.
"Our creative industries generate £8 million an hour for the country so spaces like The Word are incredibly important in nurturing the talent of those who want to work in these industries, not only for the local area, but for the nation as a whole."
The Word is supported by Port of Tyne, Arts Council England and BT.