In the 18th century, Ouseburn was the home of the industrial revolution on Tyneside, noted for glass making, pottery, lead mining and lime works. Once crossed by Hadrian’s Wall, the area was a hive of industry from the 17th century until the 1930s. By the mid-twentieth century, the area had fallen into dereliction and disuse, leaving behind many large factory buildings and warehouses. Today, the Ouseburn Valley is the creative heart of Newcastle; derelict buildings are now vibrant workspaces for artists, designers, creators and performers. Through regeneration led by the Ouseburn Trust, the area is now a cultural hotspot, a hub for the creative industries and home to hundreds of artists and makers.
Many of Ouseburn’s once derelict factories and warehouses now house a huge variety of studios, workspaces and cultural attractions, including three of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations, Seven Stories, Northern Print and Generator. The distinctive character of Ouseburn has emerged as a direct result of the focus on promoting the area as a hub for arts and culture. One of the first endeavours was 36 Lime Street, which was started when Mike Mould, founder of Bruvvers Community Theatre Company, bought a derelict flax mill in the then almost deserted Valley in 1983. In collaboration with furniture designer Tim Kendall, who still holds his 4th floor studio to this day, the idea was forged to invite creatives into the area to create workshops and studios; amongst the other founding members were a Trade Union group and the award-winning poet Julia Darling. Set over 5 floors, the building is now home to over 40 artists, makers and designers and 36 Lime Street is a proud member of the National Federation of Artists’ Studio Providers.
Ouseburn is also home to, amongst others, Chilli Studios, a mental health charity highlighting the importance of creativity in promoting mental wellbeing, Mushroom Works, home to a diverse group of professional artists and crafts people, and The Biscuit Factory, the UK’s largest arts, crafts and design gallery and home to The Biscuit Tin Studios. Wandering around the area, navigating its cobbled pathways, you can witness an array of street art nestled in doorways and reaching up towards rooftops.
In recent months the area has come under threat as Newcastle City Council have granted permission on plans to demolish the Uptin House community hub to make way for six-storey student accommodation. Local business owners say that this will leave the area “soulless and without character,” particularly given that the area has already seen an influx of purpose-built student accommodation over the past few years. Originally opened as a boarding school, Uptin House is currently home to artists’ studios and rehearsal rooms, amongst various other businesses.
Local voluntary organisation Ouseburn Futures, who have special interest groups focussing on the arts, businesses, environment, planning and development, attractions and the river area, are currently fundraising to cover the costs of challenging the Council’s decision through a judicial review. They say that “[t]he originality, quirkiness, and creative essence of the Ouseburn Valley will be eroded further by decisions of this sort.” You can access their JustGiving page here to make a donation towards their appeal and help to preserve the cultural heritage of the area.
At present, however, Ouseburn still has a lot to offer. The area is currently undergoing some development as part of the DIY Streets project to make the streets safer, more attractive and more enjoyable for pedestrians and cyclists, which will include benches, cycle parking, bins, planters and better defined footpaths. This weekend sees the return of the much loved Ouseburn Open Studios, which offers the opportunity to see inside artists’ studios, talk to studio holders about their work and admire (and purchase!) some of their creations. Perfect for picking up something special for your Christmas shopping whilst supporting local artists and designers. Ouseburn Open Studios 2016 will be held on 26th and 27th of November across the Ouseburn Valley.
'Illusions' by Nica Harrison - May 2016
Nica Harrison is currently in Gdansk working as one of the 100+ artists pulled together to create the world's first fully painted, animated feature film Loving Vincent. We can't wait to see it! Below is an archived review of her solo…