Little Mix and Collabro stars join drive to save the Customs House

LENDING SUPPORT ... Stars including Little Mix's Jade Thirlwall are urging people to support the Customs House, in South Shields.
LENDING SUPPORT ... Stars including Little Mix's Jade Thirlwall are urging people to support the Customs House, in South Shields.

THE stars have come out in support of a South Tyneside theatre.

The Gazette revealed yesterday how after two years of losses, the Customs House, in South Shields, was almost forced to close its doors on January 30.

The Mill Dam venue was saved after help from Arts Council England, but executive director, Ray Spencer, says it isn’t out of the woods just yet.

If more people don’t visit the venue to see shows, films, or even just have something to eat, it could be set for its final curtain call.

An economic study revealed that the Customs House is worth £3.5m to the borough each year – revenue that would be lost if it were to close.

Last Sunday saw the venue receive a £25,000 boost after South Tyneside comedians Jason Cook, Chris Ramsey and Sarah Millican headed up two performances of a star-studded charity gala.

This Sunday, X Factor champ Joe McElderry, of Westoe, South Shields, is performing a special gig at the venue to raise funds, and now, even more stars have come forward to urge people to get behind the Customs House.

Collabro star Jamie Lambert, Little Mix’s Jade Thirlwall, and West End star Alice Stokoe have all shared their messages of support.

Jamie says he has fond memories of performing at the venue during his teenage years.

The singer first performed at the Customs House when he was just 14.

Since then, he’s performed in multiple local productions and went on to win Britain’s Got Talent last year with his classical boyband Collabro, who are currently touring the UK and working on their second album.

Jamie, 25, says he has many memories of singing on stage at the theatre and hanging out backstage with fellow performers like Joe, Jade and West End starlet Emilie Fleming.

He said: “I can remember the first time I sang there. It was during Youth Arts Week in 2004. I’d just been in a production of Les Misérables at the Whitley Bay Playhouse and I sang Empty Chairs at Empty Tables at the Customs House, and the year after that I did a singing contest called Open Zone Idol with Jade.

“After that, I did a lot of performances at the Customs House and watched a lot there too. I used to do a couple of gigs there every month.

“I’ve got lots of great memories of hanging out backstage with everyone before and after the shows. There was me, Jade, Joe, Emilie, Michelle Smith, who’s on the West End now, Aidan Salter, and loads of others.

“It’s amazing how many people started off singing and performing at the Customs House and have gone on to do it professionally – it’s a place that really nurtures talent.”

Jamie, whose mum is South Tyneside NHS chief executive Lorraine Lambert, said he was sad to hear that the venue was almost forced to close its doors and hopes that people will give it the support it needs.

Jamie added: “There are so many things I love about the Customs House. I love it’s location and the fact that it’s a centre for all of the young talent in South Tyneside.

“I don’t think it gets enough funding, the arts in England doesn’t get enough funding, and little theatres don’t have enough money to put on the kind of things that they’d like to.

“The Customs House brings great shows to the town but also does such amazing work with youth groups and people of all ages who are passionate about the arts.

“It’s something that we shouldn’t let go of. It’s a massive part of the history of South Shields and it would be such a shame if it was to go.

“South Tyneside is lucky to have a place like this.”

Jade, who triumphed on the X Factor in 2011 with girlband Little Mix, says the Customs House is a very special place to her.

The 22-year-old, of Laygate, South Shields, said: “The Customs House means so much to me as that’s where I spent a lot of my childhood.

“I can’t count how many shows I did there – musicals, charity shows, going to the panto every year and having my favourite Sunday dinners – no offence, mam.

“When X Factor asked me where I’d like to take them for the final week I didn’t have to think twice. It was always my happy place, where I’d see my family beaming at me in the audience, watching me do what I loved.

“I’m very grateful to the theatre, audiences and all the staff there for always supporting me and would love to perform there again one day.”

Alice, who is currently starring in the lead role of Sophie in Mamma Mia! at the Novello Theatre, in London’s West End, was once a regular face in the Customs House pantomime.

The 23-year-old, of Jarrow, said: “The Customs House wasn’t just my introduction to theatre – the first show I ever watched was the 1996 pantomime – it was also a place for me to explore and ignite my passion for performing as I grew up.

“It gave me some amazing opportunities, including my first ever professional job in the pantomime. Without the Customs House, I don’t think I’d be a professional performer today.”

Twitter: @shieldsgazvicki