The Rekendyke regeneration
Curly took time out this afternoon to visit the Customs House in the Mill Dam, South Shields to view plans for the regeneration of Rekendyke and the riverside. From my standpoint on this side of the counter I need you to know that these are the most ambitious and exciting plans for this town for the past fourty years. We have in front of us a golden opportunity to create something worthwhile and memorable for this town and it’s people, a tranche of land so large waiting to be redeveloped to meet the aspirations of thousands of people, this is a once in a lifetime chance to get it right first time!
My first impressions, unfortunately, were pretty bad, having walked from the West Park area to the Mill Dam I was joined by another couple, who, like me were having trouble in finding the much heralded exhibition. We could see no signs or posters telling us where to go, this was not the most auspiscious of beginnings, we wandered all around the ground floor of the Customs House before asking in the Green Room Cafe. Having been told that the exhibition was in the building next door we went to find an entrance, still no signs, not even a sign that said “entrance”, I found this to be rather worryingly unprofessional, a major chance to see an exhibition about a major regeneration, 7000 invititations sent out, yet the public had to struggle without help to find it!. However we found a way in, even then there were no instructions to go upstairs to the Community Room.
On entering I found two tables where adults were painting on paper in a fashion dreadfully worse than my own children could manage, a larger table with styrofoam tiles and polystyrene blocks glued to it, looking for all the world as though it had been painted by the children of the nearest Primary School, the walls were adorned with maps and plans marked in varying colours, but all of the road names had been removed – just why were they trying to make it difficult for me? There was a slide show running in the background but it’s volume was so low that it could not be heard, adjacent to this were three exhibition boards from the Rekendyke Partmership but the main informational content was almost at floor level where it could not be read. One could instantly tell that these people have never spent time working behind the counter of a corner shop! As a customer facing exercise this was a total flop!
I had arrived a little after 12.00 noon and despite wandering about from table to table, map to chart, not a single person introduced themselves or approached me, despite the obvious looks of confusion on my face, others were quietly muttering into their collars and also looking confused. I did meet some of my old customers who pop in here and we all agreed that this was not looking like a professional presentation. So I made my voice heard and almost shouted for someone to show me round and explain the concepts.
I was glad I did, the young man who came to my aid was David West, and it turns out he is the urban designer who has been commissioned to advance all the elements of this regeneration project along with his French architect business partner. David is a young man, a very young man to head a project of this size, but it is at this point that my moaning has to stop and the praise begin. David West is articulate, bright, imaginative, and well read. He tells me that he too is a visitor to the Corner Shop, having spent months researching all aspects of South Shields on the internet, he said;
“Everytime I entered a search term for South Shields, up popped Curly’s Corner Shop, it’s amazing how much I’ve learned about the culture, the history, the people, the knowledge, the industry of this town, just through you”.
(Curly turns away with a sheepish grin and a red face). David has come up with some exceptional visions of how our riverside areas ought to be developed, helped by people on the ground in the Rekendyke ward, who’s input has been vital. He is not looking to create a property developer’s dream with multistorey riverfront housing, his vision is for South Shields to have something radically different and instantly memorable. Something those on the north bank of the Tyne will look at every day with envious thoughts in their heads. David spent over an hour with me as we poured over his plans, I got to learn what each colour on the maps meant to him and how fluid and conceptual certain areas are, there is still a lot of firming up to do, but at this stage of formulation these plans and ideas are instantly exciting and vibrant, nothing like this has been seen in the past history of town development here.
I also met and spoke with Linda Gibson, an old friend of mine, who is a community development worker with the Rekendyke Partnership, a body formed by South Tyneside Council and the William Sutton Trust, Linda is instrumental in gaining “buy-in” from the residents of the ward. It’s many years since I last met Linda and she has lost none of her charm and beauty, that’s her pictured above with Cllr. Audrey McMillan in the background.
Please go and see this exhibition at the next available opportunity, if you have ideas for development or objections to some of the major facets of the plan, David is only toohappy to listen to your concerns and build them into the detailed plans for the future.
Clicking on the thumbnails below will show you why I was not impressed with the presentation today.