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Our Crack Tongue & Groove

tynebridge.jpg Was the Tyne Bridge a waste of money?

The Tyne Bridge was completed in 1928 at an estimated cost of £1.2 million. Would a cheaper, simpler, less dramatic bridge not have been preferable? Surely there were better ways to spend all of that money, a huge sum in the 1920s, on depression hit Tyneside? No: there must always be a certain amount of money put aside for stuff that enhances our lives in ways that are not easily demonstrable, be it in architecture, the arts, culture or whatever you want to call it.

The Tyne Bridge stands tall as a symbol of local pride and I’ve lost count the number of times that people have told me they feel a little skip in their hearts whenever they return to Newcastle by rail, from London or wherever, and turn to gaze upon its graceful arch once again: “I know I’m really home when I see the Tyne Bridge”.

The Tyne Bridge was always more than a bridge; it was a statement. And over the last couple of decades and more, Tyneside has been making a lot more big statements about who we are and what this region has to offer.

It has taken time, but we have gradually cast aside outmoded stereotypes that had become entrenched in the national press, and popular opinion, that we’re all usually to be found sitting around in working men’s clubs, tin bath under one arm, whippet under the other, flat cap on the whippet.

We’re now more widely known for our incredible galleries, theatres and museums, our stunning architecture and imaginative festivals. A headline in the Guardian a few years back captured the new mood: “Welcome to Newcastle, the UK’s capital of the arts”. The Lonely Planet guide saw fit to include Newcastle in their 30 must-visit destinations in the world (IN THE WORLD!); and survey after survey named the city as one of the top short-break destinations in the UK.

And it’s not just visitors who have been captivated by our vibrant cultural sector. A study of major UK cities found that, per capita, people in Newcastle are more likely to visit galleries, museums and concerts than any other.

Our local arts scene is once again making national headlines of course, but this time it’s because local council funding to cultural institutions is to be cut in its entirety. Not only is this giving the impression that we’re shutting up shop when it comes to culture, but it makes no financial sense either, with every £1 invested in the sector by the council, generating an additional £4 for the local economy.

A city is defined by its culture. It is our heritage, our identity, our – and yes, I’m not afraid to say it – our soul, damn it! Destroy that and what are we left with? Flat caps on whippets? RM