Meet Stuart Egan – the new Managing Director of The Exchange 1856.
Born and bred in Wallsend and a North Shields resident for a spell, Stuart has spent his entire life in North Tyneside and knows the area, and its communities, inside out.
Stuart is married to Michelle and they have two children Ethan (13) and Bethan (9).
Tell us about your background?
After leaving St Cuthberts Grammar School at the age of 18, I fell into banking and worked at Barclays Bank in a wide variety of roles for the next 17 years. Initially, I worked as a cashier and personal bank manager in the North Shields branch before moving into corporate banking, supporting local businesses and large PLCs. In 2016, I was approached by Handelsbanken to work at its newly opened Tynemouth branch until it closed in February 2022 when I moved to the Newcastle branch. I joined The Exchange 1856 in my new role on 5th June 2023.
My banking experience has given me invaluable insight into the commercial world and how successful businesses operate and I am delighted to be able to put this knowledge to good use at The Exchange 1856.
Alongside my financial and business acumen, I have extensive experience of theatre and the arts in the local area, having worked in the industry, both behind the scenes and front of stage, in my spare time.
My love of the arts goes way back to when I was 14 and I first joined the local youth theatre. This followed a long family tradition - both my parents, and my grandparents before them, have always been heavily involved in music and theatre. My grandfather was a professional musician, my other grandfather a local radio performer and both my parents directed and performed in a wide variety of theatre shows. My mother, Marsha Egan / McKinley, became quite famous within the arts community locally before she sadly died in 2006.
Having worked behind the scenes at Whitley Bay Playhouse for many years, I have an in-depth understanding of the technical aspects of putting a show on the stage. The costings. The importance of high-quality lighting and sound. The venue support. Everything.
This will help me ensure that The Exchange 1856 provides the perfect event space to stage everything from theatre performances to comedy shows, concerts, business events and weddings to meet the needs of the local community.
Why the Exchange?
This is absolutely my dream job. It combines my commercial expertise with my love of the arts. What could be better.
Although I was aware of The Exchange as a beautiful local building, I really didn’t know what it was used for – despite my connections within the local arts scene. I want this to change. Everyone needs to know about this iconic local landmark and what it stands for.
When I saw Paul Stonebanks’ vision for the venue I was immediately sold. The chance to bring this stunning building back to its former glory and transform it into place for everyone in the local community really appealed.
I’ve known Paul Stonebanks and his family for the past six years and we’ve worked closely together building his businesses. Paul shares the same community-driven values as me and I know he always follows through on his promises.
This confidence in Paul, and my shared belief in his vision for The Exchange 1856, is what convinced me to leave a career in banking to follow my heart.
What qualities do you think are needed for this role?
To develop The Exchange 1856 into a much-loved space which provides a spark for better social and cultural change, I think you need to have a real love of the arts teamed with a strong commercial head.
We want The Exchange to be somewhere that gives back and makes a positive difference to the lives of people and businesses across North Tyneside. With that in mind, it’s really important to know and understand the local community. To know the history. To know what people hold dear to their hearts. All that informs decision-making about the venue.
What are your plans for The Exchange 1856?
As the central focus in North Tyneside’s Cultural Quarter, The Exchange 1856 will help to bring people into the area and drive footfall throughout the town offering real economic benefits.
In a year’s time I want local people to be talking about The Exchange 1856 and visiting for all sorts of reasons. The Exchange 1856 is far more than just a theatre, it’s a bar, a restaurant, a business centre, an event space – a true multi-purpose building.
Whether people come to see a theatre show, hold a party, enjoy a meal, attend a business event, pop in for a drink or come and do a fitness class, I want The Exchange 1856 to be a community hub where people feel they belong and want to be.
We want to work with schools and community groups to build education programmes, run healthy living initiatives and hold community events which bring people together to build stronger connections. We are determined to make North Tyneside a better place to live, work and play.
Many plans are in place to help make this happen. We are currently talking to promoters, artists and key local groups and are hoping to make some announcements soon about future shows, events and concerts.
I think overcoming some of the negativity and public concerns around the commercial focus for the building is something we need to tackle as a priority. Some people truly believe we will just become a wedding venue. This definitely isn’t the case. We will continue to have a full cultural offering.
But we can’t shy away from the cost of running the venue. Gas, electricity, rates - costs are all rising and we need to be able to pay our bills. We need to balance offering affordable activities with being commercially viable.
However, we’ll be making sure we offer value for money. We are heavily investing in the venue to ensure it provides a world-class architect-designed event space with state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, LED screens and the highest quality fixtures and fittings. This will be a beautiful place to be and will rival any top-class venue around the UK.
What about the cultural offering?
As part of our lease, we are required to retain a cultural offering to serve the local community.
But this won’t be just ticking boxes. My passion is the arts, performance, theatre, culture and I’m determined to make The Exchange 1856 somewhere where these are celebrated and nurtured.
We will be looking to deliver a community focussed offer which fulfils our role within the Cultural Quarter and aligns with the cultural values of North Tyneside. We are looking to increase the number of community users of The Exchange 1856 by 90% and, by Summer 2024, we aim to increase the arts programme on offer by 90%.
Local people worried that our focus will be purely commercial should not be concerned.
We are currently finalising an extensive interior refurbishment of The Exchange 1856.
Once this is complete, we will be able to launch our forthcoming programme, hold open days and start heavily marketing the venue to different target audiences.
Any new acts / performances to announce?
Discussions are already taking place with a number of potential acts and we hope to have further exciting news soon.
When will the community get a chance to meet you and ask questions?
Renovations are currently underway but, once these are complete, we will be holding an Open Day for the local community, where you come and tour the building and pose any questions you may have.
This is likely to be sometime in July but we will announce the date closer to the time on our website and via social media.
In the meantime, if you would like to speak to me on a one-to-one basis you can contact me via email address: firstname.lastname@example.org