Bay Uke’s story is firmly embedded in the streets, parks and community spaces of Whitley Bay. It is a rare example of a success that started with one person being bought a ukulele by a friend to give him something to do when he retired. Now ukes have grown into a passion, shared and loved by performers and audiences alike, right across the town.
Ukuleles make people smile. There can be very few residents or visitors to Whitley Bay who haven’t enjoyed seeing Bay Uke perform outdoors, whatever the weather, at the annual Carnival, for the Sandcastle competitions, each month at Green Beans Market, at the Cenotaph and in Whitley Park. And that’s not to mention the hundreds of smaller gigs they’ve delivered at local care homes, churches, pubs, the Library, further afield at charities (including St Oswald’s summer BBQ and Daft as a Brush) as well as events (the Rugby World Cup at St James’s Park and Central Station). They have supported, worked and run workshops with a huge range of different individuals, and contributed to Catch 22, building resilience and aspiration in young people in the community.
Bay Uke brings people together. It’s become a family. Accessible to young and old (ages range from 17 to 90 years) there is no doubt that the group has transformed lives, bringing confidence and connectedness across generations. Having outgrown their original home at Jam Jar Cinema, now every week more than 50 people meet to practise at Cullercoats Crescent Club. It’s a fun evening where they are often joined by members’ friends who come along simply to enjoy the atmosphere and the craik.
Like all families, Bay Uke has given birth to several branches, each with their own related but distinctive characteristics, styles and genres. Who would have thought that in the hands of people prepared to practise for many hours the humble ukulele could support smaller bands playing music from punk to Americana, rock to classical? And it is this ability to enable people to develop their specific areas of musical interest that I believe keeps the group moving forward, develops people’s playing ability and builds its richness.
The idea of organizing a North Tyneside Ukulele Festival was firmly embedded in and supported by the Bay Uke community and wider partners. The first Festival in 2018 made a significant contribution to the economic well being of the town and perceptions of Whitley Bay as a place where people connect and thrive. In November the Festival sub committee built on this positive start and delivered the second event at the Spanish City, the Crescent Club and Cullercoats Community Centre. More than 200 people from all over the country came together with nationally recognized performers, singing and strumming their way through a wide range of music. It was a high quality and professional event that was good for the soul, funded and supported entirely through ticket sales, volunteer and in kind contributions. And it brought very welcome visitors into the town in the winter, many of whom we know have promised to come back again.
To me, Bay Uke is an exemplary model of a community asset: inclusive, professional-in the best sense of the word- promoting activities where people connect, learn and, most importantly, have fun. I have watched in awe as it has evolved over the last 7 years from a small group of amateur enthusiasts into an orchestra that any town would be proud to call its own. I believe I speak for many when I say that we are very lucky to have Bay Uke and their Festival in Whitley Bay.