South Tynesiders are ready to answer Customs House rallying call

Customs House Comedy Gala hosted by Jason Cook, with Steffen Peddie, Lola Saunders, Alfie Joey, Neil Grainger, Chris Ramsey, Victoria Elliott, Glen Roughead, Sarah Millican, and Pat Dunn
Customs House Comedy Gala hosted by Jason Cook, with Steffen Peddie, Lola Saunders, Alfie Joey, Neil Grainger, Chris Ramsey, Victoria Elliott, Glen Roughead, Sarah Millican, and Pat Dunn

SOUTH Tynesiders are prepared to answer a rallying call issued by the boss at an under-threat borough arts venue.

Ray Spencer’s declaration could not have been clearer.

‘Use it or lose it’, was the message from The Customs House’s executive director.

He made the plea after it emerged the Mill Dam venue in South Shields was set to close on January 30.

It was saved after receiving financial help from Arts Council England.

And the theatre was also given a £25,000 boost last weekend through a star-studded fundraising event led by South Tyneside comedians Jason Cook, Chris Ramsey and Sarah Millican.

More support will follow tomorrow afternoon when town pop star Joe McElderry performs a fundraising matinee concert for the venue which is so close to his heart.

But the complex – which costs £2,000 a day to run – isn’t out of the woods yet.

Now Mr Spencer has urged the borough’s public to ensure its long-term future – by making their way through its doors.

It’s a plea which resonated among the shoppers the Gazette approached on the streets of King Street, South Shields.

Supportive Catherine Little, 64, from Jarrow, is putting her money where her mouth is.

The retired school kitchen assistant said: “I’m off to see Joe McElderry on Saturday and Sunday night with my friend, who is a big fan. I must admit that I don’t get to the Customs House that often, I think the last time was also to see Joe.

“It’s a lovely venue and I’d certainly start think about getting there more often to offer it support.”

Retired youth club leader Ann Prince, 73, from Marsden, also has a ticket to see Joe. She said: “I’ve been there to see the old-time singing group Encore and for our grandchildren’s school productions. Our granddaughter Abigail has cerebral palsy and she was presented with a child of the year award there. It’s a venue at the heart of the community and deserves our support.”

Her husband Tommy, 78, added: “It would be such a shame to lose it. I’ve always enjoyed myself when I’ve went there.”

Cabinet maker Brian Wilkinson, 42, from Harton, said: “It is a really good venue but I must admit I have only been there maybe three times in the last 15 years. I look at the listings and there is always something I fancy going to see but then something else gets in the way. The Christians were on recently and I really wanted to see them, but the wife wasn’t that bothered and I didn’t make it.

“I know friends whose children perform there in dancing events. We can’t afford to see it fold.”

For an “inside perspective” we asked Sophie Teasdale, 20, who works at Northern Stage in Newcastle.

She said: “It’s sad to hear that it’s struggling financially, but that’s not unusual. Many arts venues are having a tough time getting funding.

“The last time I was there was to see the play Get Up And Tie Your Finger. It’s a good, intimate venue.”

Ann Stewart, 79, of Saville Lodge, South Shields, added: “I am in a diabetic group and we had a lovely meal there the Christmas before last. We can’t let it go.

“I’ll make a point of getting there more often.”