Friends of St. Mary's Island

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About the Friends of St. Mary's

Weather Vane The lighthouse weather vane Introduction

When in 1984 St. Mary's lighthouse was decommissioned, North Tyneside Council, in response to an outburst of popular feeling within the borough, launched an appeal to buy it from Trinity House for the benefit of the people of the North East coast and their visitors.

It was felt that such a beauty spot should not fall into private hands, and become out of bounds to the public who had loved its lighthouse and enjoyed its wildlife for generations.

The campaign was led by the pupils of Marden Bridge Middle School in Whitley Bay; and people from all over North Tyneside, from all walks of life, from societies connected with wildlife, marine life, local history and local businesses joined together to raise money to buy the lighthouse.

A Trust in the name of St. Mary’s was formed to run the complex, but for legal reasons, and in order to get grants from the Countryside Commission and the R. W. Mann Trust, it was necessary for the bid to be in the councils' name.

The many local people who had worked voluntarily to achieve this result founded the Friends of St. Mary’s Island in 1990, and it was reformed in 1996. Its members are engaged in a number of activities, including fund-raising, which contribute to safeguarding the future of the lighthouse and its nature reserve.

In 2002, the Friends were successful in obtaining Charitable Status. A new Constitution was written and accepted by the members, so that the objects and aims of the group were more focussed in outlook.

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The Friend's Logo

The Friends logoThe Friends of St. Mary's Island Logo

In 1996 the Friends committee asked the pupils of Whitley Lodge First School, Whitley Bay, to help them to design a logo.

The pupils of  Whitley Lodge First School in 1996Our designers from Whitley Lodge First school in 1996

In all, twenty eight children submitted designs and they were all so good that we wanted to use as much of their work as possible. The finished result is a composite of parts of the drawings and suggestions of eight children from the school, skilfully put together by Stephen Gregory.

We are very proud to display it on our stationary and now, to publish it here on our web site.

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Aims of the Friends

Working with the Lighthouse Manager, the Friends raise funds to promote exhibitions, events and meetings which are designed to improve the whole area as a site of interest both locally and for visitors.

The garden is maintained by the Friends to make the area look more attractive. When possible, the Friends work with other local bodies to enhance the popularity of the area. Our aims are to help visitors and residents to appreciate the maritime history of the area, the local wildlife (both flora and fauna) and, of course, the lighthouse itself.

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Benefits for our Members

Membership is open to any individual or organisation interested in St Mary’s Island. Quarterly meetings are held in the Visitors Centre, and members also receive a quarterly newsletter which keeps them up to date with news and events on the island, and articles on lighthouse and maritime themes.

Many articles are written by lighthouse keepers about their experiences on stations around the British Isles. With the timing depending on the tides, meetings are held in the Visitors Centre on four Sunday afternoons during the year and feature speakers with an a local or maritime interest.

In recent times we have joined three other organisations - the Association of Northumberland History Societies, the British Association of Friends of Museums, and Whitley Bay Chamber of Trade. St. Mary’s Island benefits from the wide coverage of our interests within these organisations and members are able to attend events of interest organised by them. We have also. in turn, been able to take part in organising visits for them to St. Mary’s Island.

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Fund Raising

From the start of the society in 1990/91 our funds rose from an initial £393 to £1292 in 1995, when the Friends was temporarily disbanded. This money was spent on picnic tables, and furniture and equipment for the classrooms.

In 1996 fund raising started again in earnest with an income that year of £1919. By the lighthouse’s centenary year in 1989 a massive £10,188 was added to our account by the organization of several large scale events, and by designing and selling sweat shirts and t-shirts commemorating the event. Money was donated by the visitors to the island, the Halifax Building Society, Sainsbury’s, the Whitley Bay Pantomime Society and others. We also made a substantial amount by serving light refreshments whenever volunteers and a room were available.

Where Does the Money Go?

Our biggest expenditure was in 2001 when £8000 went towards the cost of a ramp to improve access to the island - a grant of £45,000 came from the Heritage Lottery Fund to supplement North Tyneside Council’s work. The entire cost of building the lighthouse and keeper’s cottages in 1889 was the same amount - £8000!

In the same year we funded the production of an educational brochure for schools and young people, to promote interest in and further knowledge of the island.

Over the years the Friends have provided plate glass cabinets in which to display two model ships, wall panels for educational displays, picnic tables and seats, planted up tubs and window boxes, willow screens, plants for the garden, tools for volunteers; and last year a specially designed window panel from an artist specialising in acrylics.

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All content © 2010 The Friends of St. Mary's Island