Thanks a million - one of South Shields' newest community and visitor attractions has been celebrating a milestone achievement.
The Word in the Market Place has welcomed its millionth visitor, having attracted 1,000,000 people to borrow books, visit exhibitions and take part in an ever-changing programme of events and workshops since it opened in October 2016.
Tania Robinson, head of culture at The Word, said the centre hit the million mark over Easter weekend, which she said proves the venue is achieving its aim to be a top cultural venue and library for the 21st century.
“One million visitors was always a huge milestone for us,” she said.
“That we reached it almost exactly when we had hoped to, shows that people from South Tyneside and beyond have really engaged with the venue and are inspired by what we are doing here.”
Built to celebrate the written word in all its forms, The Word’s lending library of more than 70,000 books has attracted visits from librarians from as far afield as New Zealand and The Netherlands.
Newly released figures also show there has been a 43.3% increase of books issued by the South Tyneside Central Library since it moved to The Word from its former home at St Georg Square and 36% more people are actively borrowing books.
Ms Robinson said The Word's ever-changing programme of exhibitions and displays have also given it wider appeal – from its hugely popular Monsters: The Good, the Bad and The Cuddly, to Cracked: Secret Codes and Communication.
Visitor numbers are set to see another boost next month when the annual WRITE Festival, which celebrates words in all their forms and uses, returns from Saturday 11 to Friday 24 May.
Authors, playwrights and poets ranging from David Baddiel and Vera creator Ann Cleeves, to crime queen Val McDermid and Michael Chaplin are among those who have given talks and workshops in the past.
Ms Robinson said another aim for The Word was to make creativity and words relevant to younger visitors.
She added: "There is no doubt that our digital and design facilities have been instrumental in engaging visitors of all ages."
Among key facilities at the centre is FabLab @ The Word, which provides a creative space for budding product designers and entrepreneurs to test out ideas and bring them to life, and also gives them access to 3D printers, vinyl and laser cutters as part of a programme of workshops.
It is also used by OpenZone @ The Word, which supports schools by using technology to enhance learning and teaching.
Ms Robinson said with two state-of-the-art digital classrooms, a media studio and access to the FabLab, its team helps students and teachers develop a variety of cross-curricular projects from film-making and podcasting to animation and coding.
She added that The Word’s immersive and unique StoryWorld incorporates stunning backdrop projections and sound effects so families and children can lose themselves in the depths of a story.
“But all of this is just the tip of the iceberg,” she daid. “People are always amazed by how much there is to see and do which is why so many make return visits.
“Now, it’s full steam ahead to welcome our next million visitors.”
For a full list of upcoming events at The Word, or for further information, visit www.theworduk.org.
The Word in numbers
:: The Word Library has more than 70,000 books which can be borrowed by members of South Tyneside Libraries.
:: The building has won 19 architectural awards.
:: Its Café has sold more than 100,000 cups of coffee.
:: The Word has staged more than 800 events, including author talks, writing workshops, storytelling, digital media sessions, poetry slams, murder mystery nights, performances and so much more.
:: It has had eight Writers in Residence.
:: Its local history section has more than 18,000 images which give a view of South Tyneside’s past.
:: Computers are loaded with 80 pre-installed games, from the classic Sonic the Hedgehog to Shadow Dancer to keep gamers entertained.
:: Its shop has stocked the work of 72 artists
:: And has sold almost 3000 postcards (2896 to be exact).
:: It has held four main exhibitions – Sir Ridley Scott – past, present and future visionary, Shiver Me Timbers! Pirates on page, stage and screen; Monsters! The Good, The Bad and The Cuddly; Cracked! Secret Codes and Communication - with Amazing Space opening soon