DAVID SIMPSON considers the size and importance of Northern England and its place in the world and argues that the whole of the North should have a much bigger voice
Right let’s be clear, right from the very start, when it comes to people, the North of England is a pretty BIG place to be:
Scotland’s population is around 5.3 million by the way.
Now, I’m not suggesting for one moment that the North of England – or any part of the North of England for that matter – should break away from the United Kingdom.
I mean, for a start, we wouldn’t have won quite as many medals in the Olympics.
However, the three regions that make up the north – and not just the cities – do need a stronger and bigger voice that’s in keeping with their place in the world. In fact part of the problem is that they need to have a place in the world. Too often they’re seen as the fringes of England.
They’re more than that, in fact in many ways they are the real England.
Yet somehow, somewhere along the line, we’ve been conditioned to think small and the truth is we are very far from that. We have our own distinct history and a population that many nations in the world don’t come close too.
The North has a story all of its own – and it’s a big story and with deep roots.
And we played no small part in what made our nation so powerful and successful in the past. In fact we played a major role in changing the world:
Even the North’s smallest region could have a much bigger voice:
Whenever we think about the North, we need to remember to think big and ensure that we get our fair share of investment and a bigger say in our affairs.
Great Britain is not just all about London.
Without the North, it would be Not So Great Britain.
So, always speak up for the NORTH and let’s start by making sure that we are properly empowered to do so.
If you like this post you might like this follow up post more maps:
DAVID SIMPSON meets Newcastle tour guide, Alexander Iles, who talks about his popular city tours and his hopes for the region
I meet tour guide, Alexander Iles at Newcastle’s Journey Café to the rear of the the Laing Art Gallery. He’s very welcoming and offers me a coffee. My first impression is of an enthusiastic, engaging young man full of passion for Newcastle and very keen to share his knowledge of the city and region.
He draws my attention to a nearby building that was home to Victorian architect, John Dobson and points out what looks like a plain pavement just outside the café. Alex explains that this is the controversial ‘Blue Carpet’, a worse for wear art installation of 250,000 glass tiles, completed in 1999 at a cost of £1.6 million. He’s clearly not impressed by its sorry state, but it’s great to have your eyes opened to something you might not have otherwise noticed and in this Alex excels.
Alex is the owner of Iles Tours, a three and a half-year-old business providing popular walking tours that have become, in a very short space of time, a major tourist fixture in Newcastle. They are also a great treat for locals wanting to learn more about their city.
You’re left in no doubt that the success of the business is down to Alex’s knowledge, determination and passion for Newcastle. We chat for more than an hour and I’m struck by his desire to share as much of what he knows about the city and the region as he possibly can. What he knows is exceptional. I learned much that I did not know and as a North East historian myself, I’d say my knowledge is certainly better than average.
Though only 25, Alex has soaked up facts, stories and insights spanning centuries and this all helps to make his energy and passion so much more infectious. In fact such is his passion that it’s sometimes hard to get a word in, but it’s endearing because what he has to say is so fascinating and inspiring. What’s more it’s all told with a conviction that Newcastle and the North East has an extraordinary story that just has to be told and that this is a city and region destined for great things.
“It all started in March 2012” says Alex, remembering the beginning of his entrepreneurial adventure fondly, “there was a blizzard on the day and I started asking people if they would like a tour of Newcastle.”
Alex had studied Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University and stayed on to follow up with a Masters in Innovation Creativity and Entrepreneurship. He believes his academic background helped him understand cultures and how to “take apart the method of idea generation.”
Post university and frustrated by his job searches, being told he was either overqualified or inexperienced, he opted for self employment.
“I didn’t want to do an office job and loved Newcastle” he reflects.
“When I was younger my family and I went to the Edinburgh Festival and I remembered the guides and thought, well, that is something I could do.”
As a student, Alex developed a great affection for Newcastle and in his preparation for business his passion for the city’s history was further ignited through absorbent research:
“I went into Newcastle Library and read every book I could get on Newcastle and wrote my first tour – the Historical Tour.
“From here I went out and started asking people if they wanted tours and contacting people about what I could offer them.”
In setting up the business Alex received guidance from PNE (Project North East) and Rise Up at Newcastle University who gave him a £400 grant to build a website and make the first flyers.
“It helped a lot, as I had a vision but not much finance to get off the ground.
“For research I went to York to learn about guiding and how the city of York structures things. I wanted to see how it was done in a place with lots of tourism so I could then see where Newcastle would and will be”
Alex is motivated when people get passionate about the region and start seeing it for what it is. He wants people to love the region and to fight for it too. I find him optimistic about the region’s future as well and he believes the North East is on the verge of another great period of prosperity.
His optimism is based on the belief that a new industry or technology will be found for the city. Let’s hope he’s right. Indeed, as part of his research into a new tour featuring the city’s historic entrepreneurs, Alex has learned much about modern technology developments and technology companies within the city and the region and this will feature in his latest themed tour.
I ask him what it is about Newcastle and the North East that he thinks is so special?
“This is the greatest region in England and has so much rich history that makes it so vibrant today” he says.
“The North East is a location with such a unique culture, it is English, but it’s not, it is communal, friendly, based on honesty and mutual respect with a huge sense of humour.
“The layers of history are near the surface with the ancient Hadrian’s Wall side by side with the modern parts of the region. It is also the durability of the location; it always picks itself up, has a bit of a laugh about it and gets on with the work needed”
Typical customers on Alex’s tours are from all walks of life, ranging from school children on trips to students and professionals, to older people taking city breaks. He also undertakes corporate tours from time to time at the request of local businesses.
Around half of Alex’s customers are British, around a quarter are from Europe and the rest are from English speaking countries. He seems to get some great feedback from customers who are impressed by what they learn. This is certainly backed up by glowing reviews on Trip Advisor.
Alex clearly gets a great buzz from inspiring and educating people about the region. Even when they are local, he is keen to show that although they may ‘know’ their city there is always so much more to know.
I ask what kind of expectations or preconceptions visitors have about Newcastle on his tours and Alex has a view on this:
“I think many people think Newcastle will just be a party city. Geordie Shore has had a lot of influence on the way people view the city. Others think Newcastle is just flat caps, coal and ships – or the lack of all three! I like showing that there is so much more to the city than this.”
Alex has made many surprising discoveries about the city but one of the things that strikes him the most is how much the world owes day to day things to the city. He believes that the inventions and inventors who came from Newcastle and the region are often taken for granted despite the fact that they transformed the way the world works and I am inclined to agree.
Light bulbs, power stations, competitive rowing, cranes at docks are among the developments Alex mentions.
“Newcastle has been pivotal in how the world has worked” he says.
Alex is an entertaining teller of tales, but also a stickler for accuracy which is a good thing, but I want to know what are his favourite stories about the city?
“It depends on how people I am touring respond to it (the tour) as to which one is my favourite” he says.
“Currently on a personal level it is the story of Roger Thornton and Ralph Carr, entrepreneurial businessmen who were very influential in Newcastle during their day. I look to them as heroes in my own business. Both men started with some advantages but had to work hard on their business to succeed in Newcastle and grew to the level where they were two of the most influential people in the North East and able to protect and invest in the region through their finances.”
Alex undertakes a number of different kinds of walking tours in Newcastle, each with a different theme. There’s an historical tour, a cultural tour and a gory tour and, as mentioned, he is close to introducing the new tour focused on Newcastle’s entrepreneurs. He can also create bespoke tours for people on request.
His gory tour started this way after Newcastle Blood Bank wanted a medical tour of the city. Alex put together the tour for them and realised he enjoyed the material, so started adding and editing it.
Alex is of course not the only guide offering walking tours in Newcastle and the North East. There are many experienced, knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides offering such services throughout the region, so I want to know what he believes makes his tours different?
“I think it’s a combination of my passion for the region and wanting people to love the area as much as I do. Anyone can list off facts, but to create an engaging story you need to take the facts and make it relevant and comparable to the age in which we live. History is a lot of stories and you need to draw it out of the facts and help people feel it.”
So as the business begins to grow where does Alex go from here? Well, Alex is clear in his future ambitions:
“My dream is to expand Iles Tours across the North of England within the decade – from Glasgow and Scotland down to the south of Yorkshire and then to plan expansion into Scandinavia, northern Europe and eventually southern England.”
However, in the present he’s focused on our region and hopes to continue developing the educational arm of his business as part of a teaching group called Meet The Ancestors – where like minded businesses work to teach the past to schools and the region. Alex has also written a book that he’s hoping to get published entitled A Time Travellers Guide to the North East.
“It is a passion of mine to work in establishing festivals in the North East”, he says “and helping to get people passionate about their region” he adds, and it is in this, it seems to me, that Alex is a shining light.
For more information about how to book an Iles Tour visit the Iles Tour website at Ilestours.co.uk
Roadworks may be frustrating for motorists but PAUL WHITE advocates patience with these necessary improvements to our civilisation
I drove from Durham to the MetroCentre a couple of weeks ago.
In rush hour.
Before I knew it, I was there.
It was the second time I’d experienced this phenomenon in recent weeks.
Having spent many an hour, over the course of the last couple of years, negotiating queues and 30mph zones, this was something of a pleasure.
Does that make me a sad case? Probably not. I’m sure many others will have enjoyed the freedom of the newly expanded A1.
We had similar issues not so long back on the A19 when the New Tyne Crossing was being built. Ok, so there is more to come as connecting junctions of the A19 are to be upgraded, but when you consider that these are the remaining clogs in that part of our road network, then surely the long term benefits are going to be worth any short term roadworks.
I must confess that I come to this from the viewpoint of someone who appreciates civil engineering from having worked with organisations and businesses in that sector in the past. I think I perhaps have developed a greater tolerance to the work that goes towards improving civilisation in our region.
Yes, improving civilisation. Think about it, this is what civil engineering does – it creates the world in which we live, from utilities to roads, bridges and buildings, flood defences and energy.
I’m not saying I’m a saint when sat in roadworks. I get tetchy, just like anyone. However, when I think about the end result, I tend to feel more tolerant. So long as I’m not in a rush, but hey, I know I should have given myself more time.
Earlier this year, proposed plans were revealed for a £290m upgrade of a 13 mile stretch of the A1 from Morpeth to Ellingham, that will hopefully slash journey times from Newcastle to Edinburgh.
We still have some way to go to the south of the region, with the A1 upgrades in North Yorkshire, but if a trip to Leeds becomes such a smooth ride, are we really going to complain (much)?
PAUL WHITE presents his entertaining analysis of Durham’s busking auditions which aim to vet the quality of buskers in the city, but who decides?
An interesting item came up on my Facebook feed at the weekend. A couple of musician friends had both posted a link to a Change.org petition against a new way of regulating buskers that is being established by Durham Business Improvement District (BID).
Neither of my musician friends actually busk, but they were vehemently against the idea. I read the introduction to the petition, found that I, too, agreed, and duly signed up.
At the time of writing, it’s 22 names short of 1,000 signatories.
The essence of the tale behind this petition is that Durham BID is bringing in auditions for people to secure six-month busking permit in Durham City. Currently, no such licence is required to do so.
Having read both the petition and reports in the Durham Times, it seems that local people attending these auditions, alongside representatives of local businesses, the police, etc, will get to vote on which buskers get a permit. It’s either a straight yes or no from the “judges”. How demoralising for someone who has a bad night, or is just starting out to face rejection like that.
It seems the business community isn’t happy with the noise and this is what has started all of this kerfuffle. (Note to certain elements of the business community, when you get a quiet moment in your shop, just listen to some of the rubbish being piped in on your speakers. Scorpio Shoes, where staff have excellent musical taste, are excluded from that last statement.)
Now, having seen who gets voted for on the X Factor, I’m horrified by this prospect. It always seems those talented artists who have worked their backsides off, busking away, playing to one man, his dog and a pool table in local pubs, and who have actually developed a skill set, far too often get voted off in favour of bland, manufactured music and “characters”.
Can you imagine Jedward or Wagner lasting five minutes if they tried busking on Gala day?
Interestingly, my England’s North East colleague, Dave Simpson, nipped down to the city centre and talked to some buskers.
Irish piper Neil Chambers told Dave he wasn’t really against the licence, but his main concern is for the increasing use of pre-recorded music by buskers and I have to agree.
Neil said: “They should do what Dublin did: ban backing tracks to take it back to what busking should be, creating a nice atmosphere instead of overloud pre-recorded music which a lot of people think is insulting.”
I can’t imagine the “X Factor” style voting panel would agree that backing tracks are a bad thing. You can just imagine Cheryl Fernandez-Versini (surname correct at time of writing – I genuinely had to Google it to check) saying: “Ok Reggie and Bollie, that’s very good, but I need you to play something called a guitar.”
Fair enough, if what this proposal does is eliminate that element of pre-packaged musical hell. Isn’t it better to put efforts into stopping those anti-social people who blast music out of their phones as they walk down the street, or as they travel on public transport? Perhaps they could legalise grabbing those phones from the offending individuals and smashing them into a million pieces. I digress.
What I like about unlicensed busking is that it is, by its nature, rather self-regulating. If buskers are good, they will earn money and return. If they are terrible, they will not, with the possible exception of a busker many of you may be familiar with, who camps himself at the Newcastle side of the Millennium Bridge and is charmingly entertaining in his own inimitable way.
It seems that the members of Durham’s business community who have created the issue by complaining about the noise must not be bothered by the actual noise itself, if the proposed resolution of the situation is for buskers to be licenced. Then it seems it may be a matter of taste and, surely, all these events are likely to do is change the style and, to some extent, quality of the performers. It’s swapping one noise for another and isn’t that just institutionalised discrimination?
Should the petition fail and this goes ahead, I urge all fans of live music, the ones who go down their local when there is a band on, the ones who go to local festivals and open mic nights, to get themselves along to these events en masse and vote for the real talent they think deserves a slot.
But then, if these acts can wow a real live crowd, do they not deserve something a little more than being sent to play outside in the Great British Weather?
*The first Live InDurham busking audition event will be held at Whisky River on Thursday, August 18, from 7pm. Details are available at www.durhambid.co.uk/live.
Views expressed by our bloggers do not necessarily reflect those of England’s North East or Truly Awesome Marketing Ltd
HELEN GILDERSLEEVE finds out how a popular urban-based farm hopes to achieve self-sufficiency as it faces major cuts in funding
Based under Byker Bridge, the Ouseburn Farm in Newcastle is a rustic green oasis in the heart of the city.
Sadly, the popular farm may face closure after a key backer was forced to withdraw support, leaving a significant funding shortfall.
Established as a charity in 1973, the farm is owned by Newcastle City Council, though for the last eight years Tyne Housing Association (THA) have paid £100,00 towards annual running costs. Cuts in funding mean the housing provider can no longer support the farm beyond April 2017.
The free-to-enter farm is a much-loved feature of the Ouseburn townscape and is home to cows, pigs, sheep, goats and ducks. It gives an opportunity for city people to get close to farm animals and provides farm-based and environmental education for over 4,000 school children and students in term-time.
Workshops teach agricultural, horticultural and environmental skills to vulnerable adults and members of the public and are provided by a staff of six full-time and two part-time employees supported by up to 20 volunteers.
Closure of the farm would be a major loss to Ouseburn but things are looking hopeful, as the charity is making steps towards becoming financially self-sustaining. The Board of the Tyne Housing Association has transferred a carpentry workshop and two furniture shops in Wilfred Street, Byker to the farm charity to help generate the much-needed funds.
Further funds come from Ouseburn Farm Shop on Heaton Park Road which opened its doors at the end of June. The shop sells upcycled furniture that has been restored and recycled at the Wilfred Street workshop which in turn reduces a cost to the environment by helping reduce landfill waste.
In addition, the shop sells homemade bakery items and preserves produced at the farm. It is very a positive step forward for the farm in its aim to become self-sufficient
The farm itself in Ouseburn Valley also generates income from its newly refurbished coffee shop and educational classrooms. Workshops are available which aim to teach school children, students, vulnerable adults, volunteers and members of the public about agricultural, horticultural and environmental projects.
A spokesperson from Ouseburn Farm, said:
“We’d like to give a massive thank you to Tyne Housing Association who have funded the farm for the last eight years and we remain positive that the farm, treasured by all the community – near and far – will get backing in the near future.
“If anyone would like to do their bit to help us then they are more than welcome to donate as much or as little as they can afford.”
Councillor Stephen Powers, Cabinet Member for Policy and Communication, said:
“The Council has had a long involvement with the farm and was instrumental in saving it ten years ago when it was discovered that the old City Farm was situated on land that was heavily contaminated from its historic use as the site of an iron works.
“Because it was recognised as an important and much-loved attraction in Ouseburn, which also had great potential, in 2006 the Council oversaw a major project to clear the contamination and replace the old buildings with a new environmentally friendly building.
“An innovative agreement with Tyne Housing Association for them to take over and develop the Farm has been very successful and I am very keen to see the Farm’s future secured. Both the Council and Tyne Housing face serious financial pressures in a time of austerity and so it is essential to find an alternative external funding source so the Farm can continue its excellent work with schools, volunteers and vulnerable adults.
“It is one of the key visitor attractions within the Ouseburn Valley alongside Seven Stories, the Victoria Tunnel and the various galleries, pubs and cafes and is integral to the emergence of the Valley as a unique and vibrant area of the city.
“The Council will work alongside THA to find a way of securing the future of the Farm after April 2017 and would be happy to talk to anyone who is interested in becoming involved with such a fantastic place.”
Bees play a critical role in plant pollination, making them a crucially important part of our ecosystem. JONATHAN JONES visits a County Durham business that could make beekeepers of us all with the help of 21st century technology.
A COUNTY Durham environmental business hopes to take the sting out of beekeeping, and encourage more people to become beekeepers, with a 21st century bee hive, monitored through a smart phone app.
Long seen as a specialist industry, traditional beekeeping requires sometimes expensive equipment, can be time consuming, and land intensive.
But new business BuzzCloud buzzcloud.global, in Tantobie, County Durham, hopes to change all that, with the development of a bee hive, linked to the ‘internet-of-things’, which will enable anybody to become a beekeeper, and more importantly protect a species that is fundamental to life on this planet.
The ‘internet of things’ is a development of the world wide web, which gives everyday objects, such as vehicles and buildings, Internet connectivity, by embedding them with electronics, such as sensors and actuators, which can be monitored using a mobile phone.
Roger Lewis, director of BuzzCloud, and his colleague, Fraser Lindsley, are seeking funding to manufacture the first hives for public testing. They already have a number of hives at beta test sites across the UK, including locations on North Tyneside and in Leicestershire.
And they’re hoping to use crowdfunding, against bank lending or venture capital, to fund the production of the first hives available to the general public.
Crowdfunding works by asking thousands of people, not necessarily in the UK, for small amounts of money to fund the projects they are interested in.
BuzzCloud is seeking an initial $20,000 (approximately £15,500) on the Indiegogo site www.indiegogo.com, one of the largest crowdfunding sites in the world. The official launch takes place on July 15.
Mr Lewis explains: “We chose crowdfunding as it allows us to raise the relatively small amount of money required for the initial project, through people who have an interest in helping bees. We chose Indiegogo as it’s one of the largest crowdfunding sites in the world.
“If this initial crowdfunding phase raises the money required for the test hives, we’ll then look at future crowdfunding when we are ready to go into production of hives that will be available to the general public. Starting small like this also provides real market validation.”
The public launch will follow analysis of the initial information collected from ten beta test hives.
Mr Lewis, originally from South Africa, and who also lived in Malawi (in central Africa), plus other parts of Europe, before settling in Tantobie, is an electronics and IT professional who wants to put his skills to good use protecting bees.
He believes there is no other beehive around that can monitor the life of the bees within it so effectively, although hives have been developed in Australia to make the process of harvesting the honey easier.
As well as being able to monitor the hive remotely, using the BuzzCloud mobile phone app, users will also be able to change settings, such as raising the temperature of the hive, in particularly cold periods, or to help deal with pest infections, such as the Varroa Destructor mite, which can destroy entire hive populations, typically 40,000 – 60,000 bees.
BuzzCloud will use 3D printing and cutting technology to create the hives, using sources of recycled cellulose.
Once further funding is secured, it is hoped the first bee hives available to the public will be produced in a specialist, automated industrial unit, in County Durham.
And hives will be produced in a variety of sizes to meet the requirements of the urban beekeeper.
Mr Lewis said: “We’ll be looking to develop smaller hives, which can be put on a balcony, or in a confined space, in urban locations.
“Larger hives will be capable of producing 25kg or more of honey, with the smaller hives, half that amount.”
And as for those people put off beekeeping by the prospect of being stung, Mr Lewis said: “Perhaps the best thing about this new approach to beekeeping is that you don’t have to be a beekeeper!
“It’s no longer necessary to get suited up in a clumsy beekeeping suit and gloves just to monitor your beehive – we make it possible to do almost all the monitoring needed using your mobile phone or tablet. This does not mean that remote monitoring can eliminate all manual inspections, it does however sharply reduce the number of times the hives need to be manually inspected.”
Beer Blogger, PAUL WHITE explores the region’s thriving range of craft beers and microbreweries
The North East is a fantastic place for food and drink.
We are blessed.
Whatever your culinary preference, there is something for you, and you no longer have to focus on Newcastle, and events like Eat! Great restaurants to suit all wallet sizes are now widespread across the region.
Likewise, we have some amazing drinks being produced in the North East, from Durham Gin to Wylam Brewery.
The craft brewing movement is as prolific here as it is anywhere. I use the term “craft”, because it is now in common usage, but many brewers will tell you that it has been around for years. Black Sheep Brewery, just a short drive south of the region, for example, will argue that what founder Paul Theakston was doing when he established the brewery in 1991 was craft – it was challenging bland beer.
People may look at the North East and think of our brown ales, from Newcastle and Sunderland (Double Maxim), but that’s just scratching the surface. Since I started my blog, Poets Day Pint, at the start of the year, I’ve blogged about a different beer most weeks and, both “professionally” and socially, I’ve sampled 67 different beers (source: my Untappd app, with which I check-in with each beer – correct at time of writing, almost certainly out of date at time of reading).
Many of these have been from the North East and I’ve found some fantastic beer. Wylam’s Jakehead IPA has become a go-to beer, I’ve found a lovely lemon and vanilla oatmeal stout from Northern Alchemy, I’ve rediscovered the joy of Camerons’ Strongarm, and stumbled into the Black Paw Brewery to sample its range, which is now matched with the outstanding food at the Michelin-starred Raby Hunt restaurant.
This is just a flavour, with microbreweries seemingly to be found in every town and village.
My urge to you, dear reader, is to give these beers a try, whether you see them on a bar, in a pub fridge, or in a supermarket. If you’re passing a local brewery, stop to see if it’s open. It may be selling its drinks, or even giving tours.
There’s a joy to be had in finding a new beer. It’s even better if you know it’s locally produced and that, simply by choosing it over a mass-produced generic “name”, you’re helping the local community and a small business.
Visit Poets Day Pint, a jargon free beer blog for the layman, not the drayman.