What You Need to Know About a New Documentary on the History of the Shields Ferry
Sunderland-based New Enterprise Studios are producing a new documentary film charting the history of the cross-Tyne Shields Ferry service
The team wanted to offer an affordable studio space for filming, photography and audio recording. ‘We found a premises in Sunderland, which is where we’re currently based, and we got the keys in 2020 just before the second lockdown hit. We were sort of stuck in limbo but we took that time to do a little bit of work on the building and bring things up to speed. In the middle of 2021 we were able to launch properly and held an official open day towards the end of that year.
‘Because we’re a community interest company, we always look at ways of helping the community. One of those ways was to look at different grants and funding that were available and to see if there were things within our region that we had an interest in and that we could help with. That led us in the direction of the Shields Ferry service, which is operated by Nexus, and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.’
New Enterprise Studios has received £50,000 in funding to shoot Ferries on the Tyne, a film providing insight into both the history and legacy of the Shields Ferry crossing, and Wayne is the co-project lead. ‘I lived in North Shields and I’d take the Shields Ferry for work because I just lived five minutes down the road,’ says Wayne. ‘I knew it was a unique service and I always thought there was a bit of romanticism about it. The more I learned about it with the more history I read up on, I realised its story went back hundreds of years. That’s what led me to pursue this bid; it’s something that’s always stayed with me.’
The documentary chronicles the history of the Tyneside ferry crossing. ‘No doubt, one of the focal points of it is the existing Shields Ferry,’ says Wayne. The service makes around 25,000 crossings a year but rather than being something of an advertisement or sponsorship for Nexus, this documentary is being made to focus on its history.
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Records suggest that ferries have been operating across the Tyne since the 1300s, but after the opening of the Tyne Tunnel in the 1960s, ferry traffic decreased. The current service (offered by two vessels, Pride of the Tyne and Spirit of the Tyne) provides an alternative to travelling by Metro, or by road, and it can be used by cyclists (it’s part of the National Cycle Route 1). It operates half-hourly, with a seven-minute crossing time.
‘We’ve been reaching out to members of the community to share their stories, and their families’ stories, of working on the various ferry services across the Tyne – either those who are still working for the service or grandfathers or uncles or cousins who held prominent positions when the various ferries were built,’ explains Wayne. ‘The Pride of The Tyne was one of the last ferries to be built at Swan Hunter shipyard and was launched in 1993 so it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. That was a great focal point – with a lot of those memories, the longer we leave them, the more we risk losing them.
‘We’re asking members of the public to get in touch and we’ve also done a lot of research. I often found that there wasn’t a lot out there about the ferry and where the history was, it didn’t have the right platform. A lot of people that I’ve spoken to, and who have lived in this region their entire lives, have never even taken the ferry and know very little of its actual history and the other services that operated on the Tyne right up until the mid-1980s.’
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Wayne hopes that this documentary will reach as many people as possible. ‘I think that there is going to be a far-reaching impact on an international scale, and the reason I say that is because even though we’ve only done a couple of journeys on the ferry so far, we’ve met people from all walks of life,’ he adds. ‘I spoke to a couple from Canada the other day and they take a trip to England at least once a year and make a point of taking the ferry when they come to the region. That in itself shows that there’re a lot of people from all over the world who have a connection with the service. I’ve always thought this is a lovely story and something that in years to come may no longer exist. If that’s the case, that would be a terrible shame, but also a loss to the region that hadn’t been properly documented.’
Wayne hopes to complete filming by September this year. ‘At that point, we’ll move towards the editing stage, although some editing will take place as production continues,’ he says. ‘What we’re hoping is by the start of 2024, February at the latest, we’ll be looking to release the documentary. We’re currently in talks with a venue in South Shields and we’re hoping they’ll be the first place in the world to show it, while facilitating an exhibition around the documentary. Then, we’re going to set up a website where the documentary will be uploaded and will be free to access to get as many people to see it as possible. We expect that we’ll get more footage than needed, and we’re eager to make sure those stories are shared so additional shots and interviews will also be on the website and hopefully part of that exhibition.’