The NWG Innovation Festival comes to the region in July. Guest blogger NIGEL WATSON, Director of Information Services, at Northumbrian Water Group looks ahead to the exciting problem-solving tasks set to challenge some of the most talented innovators in business.
The North East has a proud history of innovation, from being the birthplace of the railways to the region that sparked such inventions as the friction match.
Now, some of the best-known names in business are descending upon the North East to explore how innovative thinking can be applied to environmental and social problems, with the aim of benefiting customers and communities.
Flooding, water leakage, infrastructure and even the teenager’s bedroom of the future will all come under the microscope during week-long “sprints”, with a range of industry and academic experts, and members of the public all dedicating their brain power and experience to the task at hand.
These “sprints”, which take design thinking developed by the likes of Google and apply them to a particular subject for a dedicated amount of time, will take place in Newcastle Racecourse’s marquee village as part of Northumbrian Water’s first ever Innovation Festival.
We’re very aware that such problems aren’t surmountable by one company alone, so we are collaborating with some important partners. The festival is supported by IBM, BT, Microsoft, Reece Innovation, Ordnance Survey and CGI, with each of these companies leading a sprint throughout the week, from July 10 to 14.
Set in a festival environment designed to bring people together and be creative, we want to come up with, and develop the best new ideas. By getting our customers involved, we want them to be at the heart of this innovation – and to ultimately benefit from it.
We’re expecting 400 people each day, with around 300 of those actually getting involved in the sprints and a hackathon – where analytical experts led by Microsoft will delve into large volumes of data on leakage to see what lessons can be learned.
The sprint sessions will be sandwiched between yoga and mindfulness on the mornings and a range of entertainment on the evenings, including live comedy, music, inspirational talks, and even a pub quiz. At the end of it all, we will be converting one of the main tents into comic book heaven and hosting a special ball in support of the global charity, WaterAid.
The big questions under consideration during the week are:
‘Rain, Hail or Shine’: How can we reduce flooding? Led by headline sponsor IBM
‘Keep It Flowing’: What do we know about leakage from water pipes and how can we fix it? Led by NWG and headline sponsor Microsoft, alongside a Microsoft-led Hackathon of data relating to leakage.
‘Preparing for the Future’: How do we upgrade our infrastructure for the 21st Century effectively and affordably? Led by headline sponsor Reece Innovation
‘Tomorrow’s World’: What will living and working look like in 2030? Led by headline sponsor CGI
‘How Green is Your City?’: What can businesses do to improve the environment in the North East? Led by headline sponsor Ordnance Survey
‘21st Century Reach’: How can we optimise a mobile workforce for a complex network business? Led by headline sponsor BT
The NWG Innovation Festival is delivered in association with Newcastle University, Genesys, Interserve, Costain Resources, PC1, Tech Mahindra, Mott MacDonald Bentley (MMB), Wipro, Virgin Media Business, Schneider, Wheatley Solutions, Sopra Steria, Accenture, 1Spatial, Infosys and Unify.
People can find out more about what’s taking place at the NWG Innovation Festival, and how they can get involved at innovationfestival.org
PAUL WHITE pays homage to the region’s scenery and explores the beautiful Low Barns Nature Reserve in the Wear Valley of County Durham.
In the last year or so, I’ve reconnected with my love of the outdoors.
I remember when I was a kid, I had books galore on things like birds and could recognise many breeds and even some of their calls. I’d spend my weekends and holidays exploring the area in and around my uncle’s farm and any sunny day would be spent out and about.
That sort of thing was probably lost to football and girls and, to be fair, not that I was that good as far as either were concerned (all together now, “aww”).
Then life got busier as I got older and, as much as I enjoy a nice walk, other things got in the way.
But since starting to work with Northumbrian Water a year back, I’ve found new connections with the great outdoors. I won’t go into too much detail about the great work the company does for the environment, but suffice to say, I’ve learned to find time to just put my walking boots on and get outside more.
Having had the need to visit Low Barns Nature Reserve at Witton-le-Wear a few weeks back for a whistle-stop tour, I decided to go back and take a more leisurely look around.
The site is one of many run by Durham Wildlife Trust and I had vague recollections of primary school trips there, but, despite it being only around five miles from home, I hadn’t been back since.
I’d certainly been missing out on this wonderfully tranquil place. From the reed beds (which are on the site of an old sewage treatment works – how’s that for a stunning change of use?) to the banks of the Wear, it has so much to enjoy.
And the peacefulness is incredible. Needless to say, we signed up as members of the Trust on the spot and will be planning on visiting as many of the other sites around the North East as we can.
Between that and spending Easter weekend in beautiful Weardale, as well as recent trips to Kielder Water & Forest Park, I can safely say I’m hooked once more on the beauty of the North East.
Our region truly is stunning and not one of us can say we have explored and seen it all. So get out there and find those places that really inspire you with natural beauty.
Last weekend saw the second instalment of Jason Cook’s Comedy Club at Wylam Brewery’s Palace of Arts. HELEN GILDERSLEEVE caught up with some of the stars of the show.
Another sold out evening where ales were flowing gave the distinctive and airy venue a buzzing atmosphere. The evening was compered flawlessly by popular Hebburn actor and Geordie Rat Pack member, Steffen Peddie, who had the audience in stitches with his accounts of him monumentally peeing someone off at the Tyne Tunnel change machine, explaining why Slimming World coaches are evil and the highs (and lows) of memory foam mattresses.
First up was local lad, John Fothergill, who entertained us all with his dry and sarcastic accounts of life in London as a Geordie. A regular at the Comedy Store, Fothergill’s style is original as he moves from embarrassing sexual revelations to mocking his rural upbringing in Crawcrook.
Next on stage was Steve Day who brought a totally unique performance and shared witty observations of being a deaf man in a hearing world. He claims to be the only deaf comedian, and if there are others he hasn’t heard of them. Steve wasn’t born deaf but lost his hearing when he was a teenager, he explains: “I was about 18. They don’t know the cause, something that used to frustrate me, but I’ve learned to look forward not backwards”. His rants are enjoyable; especially a story about a Paralympics event he attended that showed Boris Johnson’s true colours. He educates the audience to the hilarity of deaf person snobbery, claiming people who were born deaf believe they are superior to him which he simply rolls his eyes at. Being a deaf comedian is great anyway he claims in conclusion, because you can never hear if anybody is heckling.
Headliner of the night was Edinburgh dwelling Canadian funny man, Tom Stade. Relatively famous on the comedy circuit, Stade has appeared on the likes of Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and Live at the Apollo as well as The Comedy Store and various comedy festivals.
He literally bounds onto the stage with endless energy and his performance was met with raucous laughter almost immediately. It’s impossible not to find this man funny.
His observations of quirky British habits were cleverly delivered, ranging from our obsession with buying flights for £29.95 regardless of the destination to his confusion of how we happily spend £3 on lattes (and physically demonstrated how we get sexually molested financially by coffee chains) yet are obsessed with Primark bargains and are all tight arses. British TV is also the butt of many jokes as he asks the simple question of why people would go on Cash in the Attic. The highlight of his set had to be his impressions of coffee chain adverts if they existed including “Starbucks is where you can meet a new friend” and “Nero is where you go when the others are closed”.
I caught up with him after the show quickly and it’s apparent his magnetic energy isn’t just a stage act. He told us how he simply loves what he does and can’t understand how all these young folk want photos with him as he’s uncool and doesn’t even know what Snapchat is. Its ok Tom, I don’t either. But thanks for the photo.
The 350 strong crowd left the brewery in better spirits than when they arrived, and not just from the tasty beer on tap. I think this event has already become a regular calendar filler for many locals and it’s clear Cook skilfully selects the slickest of comedians and the range is always eclectic, varied and well, funny. I can’t wait for the next one.
Did you know Newcastle has one of England’s highest concentrations of listed buildings? Guest blogger, JOHN MURPHY explores the North East’s building heritage and the risks historic buildings face in rural areas.
In Britain, Listed Buildings form the backbone of some of our most famous cities – whether found prominently on high streets serving as banks or offices, or tucked away in quiet streets as ornate homes.
Grade I and II listed buildings are beautiful, historical structures that have decades (and sometimes centuries) of character. They are prestigious, eye-catching and come with their own rules for builders and occupiers.
The North East, in particular, has one of the best concentrations of listed buildings in the UK with many in Newcastle upon Tyne. The North East enjoys a far higher concentration of Grade I and II* listed buildings than other regions.
Newcastle, in particular has the following:
Grade I – The national average for concentrations of Grade I buildings (which are of exceptional interest) is 2.5% throughout England. In Newcastle upon Tyne, that number is as high as 7%.
Grade II* buildings are deemed to be of more than special interest and in England Grade II* accounts for around 5.5% of all list entries. Newcastle, astonishingly, enjoys almost quadruple the national average at 20%.
Grade II (without the *) are buildings of special interest that make up the remaining 92% of listed buildings in England and in Newcastle that figure is 73%.
Grainger Town, the historic heart of the city centre, enjoys one of the highest concentrations of listed buildings in the entire country. Of its 450 buildings, 244 are listed – with 29 Grade I and 49 Grade II*.
All work on these buildings is protected by the planning authority, with English Heritage involved for any Grade I and II* buildings. Some of the most famous structures in the city fall under this protection. For example, the popular landmark Grey’s Monument is Grade I listed.
Unfortunately, despite this protection, listed buildings are at risk due to a lack of investment and damage from both vandalism and wear and tear. The Heritage at Risk register monitors buildings of historical significance that are at risk and unfortunately, the North East is in crisis – nationally the ratio is 3.8% and the North East has 6.2%.
What is causing this risk? How can the region remedy it?
One of the biggest risks the region encountered was urban decay in Newcastle City Centre during the early 1990s. The area experienced decay as private investor’s moved out of listed buildings, which were being classified as both ‘at risk’ and ‘vulnerable.’
However, a programme of development and enhancement was started by Newcastle City Council and English Heritage. Thanks to both government and private investment through the late 90s and early 2000s, the area was revamped and now stands as one of the best examples of listed buildings in the country.
Now, the more rural areas are by far the most at risk – with 30 buildings in Northumberland listed on the heritage risk list. 24 from County Durham are at risk. Compared to more urban areas, it’s clear buildings in those areas are more vulnerable. Just five buildings in Newcastle upon Tyne and six in Gateshead are on the heritage risk list – clearly illustrating that their more central location has given access to better funding and repair work.
Crime is one of the biggest risks to listed buildings, especially in rural areas where surveillance and protection isn’t readily available. A national survey found that 70,000 buildings were harmed in 2011, mainly due to metal theft.
However, in rural areas in the North East, such as Northumberland, the main threats to buildings seem to be erosion and plant growth. Perhaps the region as a whole needs to turn its attention to the more rural areas, especially as Northumberland grows as a visitor attraction. The historical buildings of the past must be preserved as the future nears.
HELEN GILDERSLEEVE attends the debut of Jason Cook’s Comedy Club on a Saturday evening. A sell out event that proved hops and hysterics are truly a winning combo.
It isn’t long since the popular Wylam Brewery Palace of Arts opened its grand doors less than a year ago. Since then the brewery has hosted many successful events, quickly becoming a venue etched firmly in the social calendars of many locals.
Around 350 laugh seekers headed to the brewery on what was a freezing, depressing night and it’s fair to say it was definitely worth the trip.
Cook, writer of the popular Hebburn series on BBC 2 invited a trio of comedians including local lads Gavin Webster and Carl Hutchinson as well as Canadian headliner Phil Nichol.
The night was compered flawlessly by Cook who dropped in comical anecdotes throughout of kinky mishaps with In the Night Garden toys and mocking phone users in the audience.
First up on stage was special guest Gavin Webster who had everyone in fits with his account of Geordies being so hard they single-handedly stopped anyone attacking Hadrian’s Wall and beyond. His hilarious take on the Glasweigan accent also went down a storm.
Next up was the mightily-pee’d-off-with-life-and-everything-it-entails Carl Hutchinson. Sharing his witty accounts of why he despises vegetarians right down to an account of why he’d strategically jump off a bridge in rush hour and give Games of Thrones spoilers to the general public, Hutchinson is definitely one to watch on the national comedy scene.
Surprise guest of the night was Canadian, London dwelling, funny man Phil Nichol. Who one can only describe as completely off his rocker. In the best way possible.
His act started off lightly with some great comparisons between Canadians and Cockneys, then quickly transcended into a potty-mouthed, guitar playing frenzy. Songs were littered with below the belt blinders and material that would make your mother blush. His act ended with him stripping half naked and being carried through the crowd by a guest he’d befriended. Not a single person could have kept straight-faced if they tried.
Cook certainly exceeded all expectations for his first stab at a gig here and it’s easy to see that the next shows will be definite sell outs. The Wylam beer fresh from keg to cup was an added bonus, I was a particular fan of the aptly named Keep Taking the Plsner.
If it’s laughs you’re after in a unique venue then you should definitely come along to the next one; a superb evening out.
Sunderland fan and beer blogger PAUL WHITE swallows his pride, a glass of Shearer and a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale but does it leave a bitter taste?
Well, my football team, Sunderland, got hammered and my fantasy league side had a pretty low-scoring day. Our rival football team, Newcastle, won. Ireland won in the rugby (that’s a good thing in our house). All round, yesterday was a pretty mixed bag, in terms of sports.
So, what better way to wind down than with a couple of beers, and I thought I would look at the relationship between beer and sport. In particular, beers that one might associate with a rival team. In my case, that means Newcastle United.
I guess the question I’m asking myself is, should you ever be put off a good beer because its association with the “other side” of a sporting rivalry leaves a bitter taste before the first drop has been tasted? Or, is it tantamount to a chance to get one over on the opposition: “I’ll boo your team, but drink your beer.” I’m sure other analogies can be found.
Now, Tyneside has its fair share of excellent breweries, but I have gone for one beer that is indelibly associated with the football team, and one that is, well, only linked by virtue of an unfortunate name.
Let’s start with that one and ease myself into it.
Shearer, from Black Sheep, is actually named in honour of sheep shearers, as opposed to being a tribute to Alan. Still, I thought twice, only half-heartedly, about whether I could bring myself to drink a beer that carries the name of the hero – legend, even – for those up the road.
As far as I recall, despite being the all-time Premier League goalscoring record holder, Shearer the player only ever scored three times against Sunderland (Gary Rowell managed that many against Newcastle in one game).He is also very fair about Sunderland in his punditry on Match of the Day, even quite vocal in his praise on the rare occasion it is warranted (not tonight, definitely not tonight). Plus, you have to admire a player who will choose to reject a move to a big club where he might achieve his true potential in order to fulfil the dream of joining the team he supported from childhood*.
So, actually, I don’t have any issue with the man himself, and as I take my first taste of the beer, I realise that I can put the loose link to Newcastle to one side and enjoy a really fresh, citrusy, pale ale. It’s probably more a summer ale, being so light and fruity, rather than a drink for a cold February night with a good chance of waking up to a snowy scene in the morning.
This is probably lighter than anything I’ve tasted from Black Sheep and I’ve had pretty much everything they’ve had on offer in the last five years or so. It goes down really well and you could drink it all afternoon on a good beer garden day, especially as it’s a nice steady 4.1%. Probably not in a Sunderland beer garden, though.
So, yes, this very loosely affiliated beer is a winner, but I won’t be shouting its name in bars any time soon.
Now, onto the second of the beers. Newcastle Brown Ale takes me back to the days when the iconic Blue Star adorned not only the label of its bottles, but also the shirts of Newcastle United. However, it’s also a beer I’ve enjoyed many times in the past, as far afield as New York. As someone who is proud of the North East as a whole, it’s great to see a beer from the region finding its way into bars around the world.
However, as I’ve historically considered it a strong beer, I’ve often only turned to Newcastle Brown Ale once I’ve been well into a night out. Nowadays, 4.7% doesn’t seem that strong, with many of the beers on the market going much higher.
In reality, it is probably my North East roots and the cultural identity that Newcastle Brown Ale has, stretching much further than the association with the football team, that make me feel more than comfortable about enjoying a bottle of Dog.
The nickname alone says something about life in the North East in days gone by, with “I’m gannin’ to see a man about a Dog” often being an excuse to get out of the house and down to the pub.
There’s something about Newcastle Brown Ale that makes it far more a part of the North East than purely being a Newcastle United-related drink. And that’s before I even talk about the beer itself. Few beers achieve such iconic status without being good. Dog is good. Very good.
Smooth and full of flavour and aroma, one can forgive the fact it’s now brewed in Yorkshire if it means keeping a great beer alive.
Having enjoyed bottles of Sunderland’s Double Maxim and Guinness Original XX last Saturday, while Sunderland were enjoying their 0-4 smash and grab raid at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park and Ireland were narrowly being beaten by Scotland in an RBS Six Nations classic, I can say that great beers go with sport and it’s nice to have that association. However, why deny your tastebuds a treat simply because of sporting allegiances?
*Tongue firmly in cheek. You won’t get many footballers making that sort of choice these days.
HELEN GILDERSLEEVE checks out Newcastle’s vintage clothing shops and speaks to the owners of two of the city’s favourite retro stores that sell popular fashions from times past.
It’s always fun to look back nostalgically at the bygone eras, making it easy to see why vintage clothing has had a recent popularity spike. Due to the success of genre films and shows like the Great Gatsby, La La Land, Downton Abbey and Mad Men, or maybe people just wanting a change from generic high street land, it seems retro rags are here to stay (although I’m still freaked out that my teenage wardrobe is now classed as retro).
Vintage clothing has a quality that transcends time and it’s easy to get a hold of some quirky buys right on your doorstep. I spoke to the owners of two of the city’s favourite retro shops: Flip on Westgate Road and The Yesterday Society in the Grainger Market.
Flip (104 Westgate Road)
Importing genuine American clothing makes Flip’s style stand out from any other vintage shops. Owner, Nick Woods, took over the business from his father who founded the shop 40 years ago making it Newcastle’s longest standing retro clothes store. Flip has been importing clothes from across the pond since 1978 and has built a strong reputation locally amongst young and old.
Overhead speakers coax customers into the shop with bassy electronica, rhythm and blues and Americana rock. The entrance is a narrow, poster-adorned corridor which works as an acoustic funnel.
On entering the store, everything at Flip has its own appropriate section; not one shirt was out of place nor a crease apparent in any of the Levi 501 jeans. The Springsteen vibe meant there were even sections for cowboy bootlace ‘bolo’ ties and original Ball Mason jars- perfect for moonshine quaffing.
Nick said every time he receives a shipment from the USA, it’s incredibly exciting as he has no idea what he will get. Most recently he found retro American style metal signs, which went for sale on their eBay shop. Overall, Flip has a clear identity and is well worth visiting for a step back in time and to find something a little different.
Tell us a bit about Flip and what you sell?
We’ve been in business since 1978, we’ve been importing genuine American clothing ever since and have built a strong identity and reputation in the North East. We sell shirts, coats, leather jackets, retro signs, t-shirts, sweatshirts, denim and lots more pieces of classic Americana.
What sells the best?
This tends to change all the time but we’ve noticed US printed sweatshirts, denim jackets and flannel shirts always seem to do consistently well.
Do you think Newcastle has a good selection of vintage stores?
Right now there’s only a few as there’s been some recent vintage clothing shop closures. We tend to help each other out by sending trade to each other if we don’t stock certain items customers are looking for.
Why do you think vintage clothes have made a recent comeback?
I think vintage clothing has always been in demand but at the moment we’ve noticed a lot more of the younger crowd taking a keener interest. A lot of people realise that classics never go out of fashion and it’s always good to see people embrace mixing the old with the new. I’d like to think another reason is that vintage has a positive environmental impact. You’re actively recycling whenever you buy vintage.
The Yesterday Society (Grainger Market)
Neatly tucked away in Newcastle’s 180-year old Grainger Market alongside book and food stalls, The Yesterday Society is easily missed. It may have a limited amount of clothes with it being a small space but with good pricing and a great selection of old school items, they certainly make up for it with quality. It’s like a Pandora’s Box of unique and quirky items; the stall is tastefully adorned and reminiscent of a backstage theatre in bygone Hollywood.
The owner, Rachael, is an enthusiast of all things vintage. Her range is imaginatively selected and updated daily. Vintage gowns and hats, shell suits, 80s shirts and shoes and accessories sold alongside each other in a visual array of colour. Rachael also stocks vintage children’s clothes, which I haven’t seen elsewhere. Dedicated customers can apply for a loyalty card scheme to. Bonus!
How did you’re the Yesterday Society come about?
I have always loved vintage and The Yesterday Society came about when I was working at the Tyneside Cinema as FOH. In my induction session, I met future friend and business partner Rosie Skett. Rosie was a fine art student at Newcastle Uni and we hit it off straight away. We worked at the Tyneside happily, but on one particularly boring bar shift we got to talking about our dream jobs, both agreeing that owning a vintage shop would be up there.
As anyone who knows me will admit I’m pretty laid back and would never have got around to doing it, but luckily Rosie was on the ball and went on her dinner break to look at the vacant units in the Grainger Market. One being Unit 9, the now home of The Yesterday Society.
From that point, everything seemingly fell into place we created a business plan, came up with a name after numerous suggestions (cat’s pyjamas anyone?), applied for finance, secured the unit, found suppliers and two months after that initial conversation in the Tyneside Bar we opened the doors to The Yesterday Society on 31st August 2013.
What inspires you?
I would say my love of vintage and retro clothes was my main inspiration in opening the shop. I love fashions of the past and to stand out from the crowd, and with vintage you can pretty much guarantee you will never see anyone wearing the same outfit. The ethical side of wearing vintage is a big thing for me too. I was brought up with very ‘waste not want not’ ideals and the current “throw away fashion” society does nothing for me. I would much rather recycle and revive a vintage piece that had history and life of its own previously than to just buy something new off the hanger.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a Newcastle lass through and through and was raised in Walker. I believe my love of vintage and flamboyant clothes can be attributed to my mam who took me on shopping trips to treasure troves like Attica as a kid and was known to overdress for any occasion. I have always loved looking different and standing out from the crowd, this has taken many guises from goth on “Hippy Green” to super girly all pink outfits.
It was at Northumbria Uni while studying for a degree in Human Geography that I found my true style wearing vintage and mixing a variety of decades in one outfit. I’m not going to lie there was a couple of questionable outfits. Once walking into a lecture with a mate Jess and over hearing someone comment “what the hell are they wearing now”! But hey everyone makes mistakes.
To complete my degree, I managed to write my Human Geography dissertation on identity creation through vintage clothes, this fuelled my love of vintage and allowed me to go shopping while doing my research.
Who is your fashion hero/heroine?
I take inspiration from many different places and people. But the two people probably highest on the list would be David Bowie and Iris Apfel. Both display extremely unique styles and multiple looks sometimes in one outfit. Iris has a great eye, and to me always looks fabulous, something I aspire to do especially when I’m her age. Bowie made each style his own and always looked great.
Do you think Newcastle has a decent amount of vintage stockists?
That’s a tricky one, I believe that in terms of vintage shops Newcastle is behind other cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow, especially for a city with such a big student population. However, living in Newcastle all my life I have come to realise that vintage shops in the city tend to come and go a lot. The majority of vintage shops I included in my dissertation in 2009 (other than Retro and Flip) have all closed down. Newcastle does also host a lot of events from traveling vintage fairs.
DAVID SIMPSON speaks to former London marathon winner and Olympic medallist, Charlie Spedding about his big plan to tackle obesity and help the nation lose a million pounds in weight
A former North East Olympic marathon medallist has launched an ambitious online campaign to help thousands of people lose millions of pounds in weight.
Charlie Spedding, 64, is the owner of ‘Who Wants to Lose a Million Pounds’ a venture that hopes to tackle the nation’s escalating obesity problem, helping people become healthy without feeling hungry:
“I have this collective idea of a whole group of people losing a million pounds” says Charlie, one of the region’s most successful athletes, referring to losing the ‘lbs’ rather than the ‘£s’.
Born in Bishop Auckland and raised in Ferryhill, Charlie started running at school where cross country was compulsory:
“It was the first thing I was any good at” he recalls.
Charlie came second in the English School Championship for 1,500 metres in his final year at school and at 16, joined Gateshead Harriers, regularly taking a bus trip from Ferryhill to Gateshead just to train. Charlie proved not quite fast enough for the middle distances, but moved up to 5,000 and 10,000 metres before finally making his mark in the marathon.
The pinnacle of his career came in 1984, when he won both the Houston and London marathons and claimed Bronze in the Los Angeles Olympics, narrowly missing out on silver to Irishman John Treacy by two seconds.
Considering the marathon’s central place in the Olympic story, Charlie can take particular pride in being the only Brit to have won an Olympic marathon medal in the last 52 years. Furthermore he is one of only six British athletes to have won the London Marathon since its inception in 1981 and is the third fastest British marathon runner of all time, after Steve Jones and Mo Farrah.
I met Charlie at his home in a village near Durham to talk about loseamillionpounds.com the website at the heart of his new business venture. First, though, I ask Charlie if he thinks he should be better remembered for his past achievements.
He’s somewhat philosophical and modestly recalls that there were some great gold medallists around at the time like Seb Coe and Daley Thompson but he proudly reflects on a prized photo of himself with Steve Cram and Mike Mcleod fresh on arrival back at Newcastle from Los Angeles in 1984.
By trade, Charlie is a pharmacist and has been for most of his life, training at Sunderland Polytechnic Pharmacy School, before starting his pharmacy career in Ferryhill. In more recent times he owned a pharmacy business in Wallsend and along with his athletics experience this gave him a sound knowledge of diet, nutrition and how the body works at the chemical and hormonal level.
In his work as a pharmacist he became acutely aware of the dietary problems that many people have: “I just noticed that most of the people I saw regularly had what you call metabolic diseases, not infections” he says “their internal metabolism had gone awry, it wasn’t working properly, they’d been taking medication for years and hardly any of them got any better”.
He concluded that medication was treating the symptom, not the cause of the problem and felt that it would do a lot more good to prevent the cause.
“A lot of metabolic diseases are caused by lifestyle and the most important bit of lifestyle is diet” he says. “I know a lot of people would expect me as an Olympic marathon runner to say exercise, and exercise is very important for mental and physical health” but he quotes the words of influential NHS cardiologist, Dr Aseem Malhotra, who says “you can’t outrun a bad diet”, a point on which Charlie agrees.
Charlie notes we are told that one third of the UK has a BMI (Body Mass Index) of over 25 and that another quarter has a BMI of over 30. “It’s not good, but how do you visualise that?” he asks.
As part of the argument Charlie assumes a BMI of over 25 is about 2 stone overweight and a BMI of over 30 is 5 stone overweight. With roughly 60 million people in the country one third of the population is 20 million and one quarter is 15 million. Charlie equates this to a UK population that is a staggering 2,000 million pounds overweight. On this basis, the North East, which has one of the highest levels of obesity within its 2.5 million people, is around 85 million pounds overweight. Charlie thinks that if he can gather together a group of people on his site to collectively lose a million pounds it would be a great start in beating obesity.
Charlie’s particular dietary approach to tackling the problem will have its critics. He is an advocate of a LCHF based diet (Low Carbohydrate, High Fat). There are a number of eminent supporters of this approach but in the UK there are some major heavyweight opponents such as the NHS who are broadly opposed or at least very cautious and the British Heart Foundation who are a significant opponent. High fat diets are often associated in some minds with heart disease but Charlie refutes this research.
He acknowledges that his approach does not fit in with official guidelines and his website makes this clear. His opinion has been informed from extensive research and he encourages people to make their own decisions with their own research.
In truth, major aspects of Charlie’s campaign are hard to deny. Reducing sugar, present in so many processed foods (a particular bugbear for Charlie) and sugary drinks is a key part of Charlie’s campaign and certainly a key factor in tackling obesity. Charlie is a great believer in what he calls ‘real foods’ as opposed to processed foods and advocates the importance of cooking as opposed to ready meals.
Widespread processed foods, excessive carbohydrates and sugary drinks are a relatively recent feature of the human story and Charlie believes humans are not equipped to cope with this change. Foods with more fat content are in tune with the way we have evolved according to Charlie.
He feels the terminology of ‘fat’ is something of an issue. “The problem is we use the same word for dietary fat as being fat” he says. In fact scientists call the fats within our body ‘lipids’ but it is understandable that in the public mind it is hard not to associate ‘being fat’ with dietary fat.
“It’s carbohydrates that make you fat”, says Charlie.
He notes that fats of various kinds are an essential part of our body’s structure and that much of the body is made from fat. The brain for example is around 70% fat and our cells are encased in membranes made of fat while our nerves are encased in protective sheaths that are fat. Charlie notes that while the body is made up of proteins and fats, “no part of the body is made from carbohydrates” and advocates that fats are a perfectly good source of energy.
He argues that saturated fat as part of a diet became demonised, especially after 1977 when official US dietary guidelines encouraged a diet based on carbohydrates (bread, potatoes, pasta) and discouraged fats (butter, lard, cream, eggs, cheese). Much of the world followed suit, but Charlie highlights a graph on his website that shows a very sharp and continuing increase in obesity in the US since 1977 which he associates with the dietary changes.
According to Charlie some researchers think a low fat diet and lack of correct nutrients increase health and mental health problems and he points to a theory that Alzheimer’s Disease may actually be type 3 diabetes.
It’s seemingly the excess glucose from carbohydrates that is the big problem. The liver turns extra glucose into fat and this makes you fat and the high levels of insulin that come from high blood sugar content prevent the burning of the fat.
Although LCHF diets have picked up a significant following in recent years there is a significant body of opinion that disagrees with Charlie’s approach. As with many issues in the modern world it is sometimes difficult to get to the truth.
Clearly, processed food manufacture is a multi-billion pound business and sugary drinks are amongst some of the world’s most powerful brands and Charlie is cautious of this: “Big business definitely affects some of the research” he says “when I see a scientific paper on nutrition, I always look to see who paid for it. In my opinion it’s nearly always funded by the sugar industry in some form or another”.
Charlie is clearly animated and excited by his new venture and is aiming for at least 20,000 subscribers in order to achieve the million pound weight loss. “I want people to join and learn more about what a healthy diet and lifestyle is” he says.
There are opportunities for family membership (£8.99 a month) so that families can work together for mutual support and individual membership is £5.99 a month. The site includes a personal page for each member to record their progress, calculating how much weight has been lost and plotting it on a chart. There are regular articles and updates on how to enjoy delicious foods that satisfy and nourish, video clips, recipes, meal suggestions, articles, ideas on exercise, information on childhood development and lots of regular blogs.
“I’m aware I’ve got an uphill struggle” says Charlie, using what might be seen as a runner’s metaphor but that seems unlikely to deter him given his proven track record for endurance.
Note: This article is not intended as an endorsement of loseamillionpounds.com or Charlie’s views by England’s North East or Truly Awesome Marketing Ltd. As with all diets, consult your doctor if you are not sure. The opinions expressed on loseamillionpounds.com are based on intensive research however they arenot intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional.
DAVID SIMPSON speaks to the proud mother of three North East brothers who will be starring in four different musical productions this year
Show business talent often runs in families and for one Whitley Bay mum this is a particularly big reason to be proud. Siobhan Bales, 46, is Head of Marketing at Tradebox UK Ltd, a software company based at North Shields Fish Quay which she runs with husband, Stephen. Upbeat, positive, yet humble, Siobhan clearly has a drive and ambition that she has seemingly passed on to her three talented sons.
In the coming months Siobhan’s three boys, Tom, Oli and Gabriel will appear in key roles in four separate musical productions, three of which are in the North East and one in London. The Bales brothers certainly sound like future talents to look out for.
Siobhan and Stephen don’t have any obvious stage connections: “There’s no performance history in our family” says Siobhan, “so I’m not sure where it comes from, though we do have singers and my mum used to dance”. Apart from that it seems the three brothers simply caught the performing bug, starting with eldest son, Tom, who displayed a natural talent for singing from the age of four.
Now 20, Tom is a student at Arts Educational Schools (ArtsEd) in Chiswick, west London, the esteemed performing arts school at which Andrew Lloyd Webber is president. It’s a major point in a performance progression for Tom which all started when, at four years old, he joined the Stagecoach performing arts school for children in Whitley Bay.
“He loved singing, dancing and dressing up” says Siobhan speaking of the four year old Tom, “he could sing pitch perfect”.
By the age of 7, Tom appeared as Young Scrooge alongside Tommy Steele in Newcastle Theatre Royal’s production of ‘Scrooge’ and at 9 joined the chorus of urchins in ‘Oliver’ at Whitley Bay Playhouse. At 11 Tom attended a dance school in Newcastle, although by the age of 14 GCSE demands meant he had to make a choice and shift focus from dance to performing in more shows. Singing was a key talent for Tom as North Tyneside’s soloist of the year, aged 13 and at 16 an intensive six months of singing lessons culminated in top grades. By 17 he was playing the lead role in ‘Aspects of Love’ at Whitley Bay Playhouse.
Many young people dream of making it in performing arts and it’s an interesting insight into the work, drive, dedication, time and talent that’s needed to achieve such goals. In terms of his training and education Tom’s enrolment at ArtsEd is the present culmination of all this work and you have to be exceptionally talented and driven to get this far.
Siobhan explains that from around 3,000 auditions at ArtsEd only 45 actually get in. “It’s good to have a particular strength but you must have an all round talent for singing, acting and dancing that are all at a similar level” she says, adding that “musicals are very competitive” .
There isn’t any sense of a pushy parent or of young people with big egos from speaking to Siobhan as she describes her family. There’s more a sense of modesty, enthusiasm, dedication and drive. Siobhan is keen to note that ArtsEd certainly look for people who are driven, talented and grounded. “they are not looking for prima donnas” she reflects “they are looking for people who are humble, modest and open to learn.”
The school certainly has a good reputation with an alumni that includes Martin Clunes, Julie Andrews, Darcey Bussell, Nigel Havers and Will Young. Typically, Tom might catch a glimpse of Colin Firth in the school corridor and has met with film director Trevor Nunn as well as being taught to act by the now retired head of acting Charlie Barker, daughter of the late comedian, Ronnie.
In such a competitive and talented environment Tom seems to have more than held his own and will be appearing in the ArtsEd production of ‘Titanic’ from Friday January 20th, 2016 in the Andrew Lloyd Webber Theatre at Chiswick for a run of 11 shows. Tom opens and closes the show with solos, playing a lead role as Titanic designer, Thomas Andrews, complete with a learned Ulster accent. Around fifty people, including friends, family and members of dramatic societies in North Tyneside are heading down to London from our region to give their support.
Meanwhile back in the North East brothers Oli and Gabriel are also preparing for their own starring roles, seemingly inspired by their elder brother’s talents. Sporty middle brother, Oli, aged 16 (there’s a four year gap between each of the brothers) is currently in his first year studying A’ Levels and has proved to be a bit of surprise to his family with his growing interest in theatre:
“Oli is a rugby player and into boxing, taking a different path to his brothers” says Siobhan but GCSE drama soon ignited the performing arts spark for brother number two.
Oli’s not a complete stranger to performance though. Siobhan mentions Oli has done busking, plays guitar and has a “rocky voice”. He’s now joined the annual musical at Whitley Bay High School, playing two roles as Prince Charming and also as The Wolf in a production of ‘Into the Woods’. “It shows his charming, satirical side as well as his dark, manipulative side” says Siobhan.
In a separate production Oli will also be playing Nathan, the son of the lead in ‘The Full Monty’ for Whitley Bay Operatic Society at the Playhouse where he has recently joined up. Recently he’s managed to squeeze in time as an extra in BBC children’s drama ‘The Dumping Ground’ which is filmed in Newcastle and as an extra in the filming of ‘Inspector George Gently’ around Durham. In addition he’s been learning dance at the Gillian Quinn School of Dance Theatre in Whitley Bay and hopes to follow in his older brother’s footsteps with an audition for ArtsEd at Chiswick in October.
Youngest son, Gabriel, who is 12, is not to be left to out. Siobhan describes him as very similar to Tom in character and “naturally good at dancing”. In May, Gabriel will be playing the principal role of Zach in Tynemouth Operatic Society’s production of ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ with a number of solos to perform. Based on the novel by Michelle Magorian, some readers may recall the 1998 TV movie of the story, featuring John Thaw.
Gabriel’s other passion is making and editing films and has ambitions to be a film director. His current projects include parodies which he edits on his home computer and publishes on YouTube. For TV. Gabriel has appeared as an extra in the production of ‘Beowulf’ filming near Consett and Barnard Castle in the Durham Pennines.
In an age where ‘reality TV’, bis egos and sometimes outrageous behaviour are often seen as shortcuts to stardom, the hard work, passion, determination and dedication of Siobhan’s three sons is a refreshing and interesting insight into the actual reality of nurturing talent and achieving success in the challenging, competitive yet rewarding environment of performing arts. It is something for which Siobhan can be justifiably proud.
In the latest science blog for England’s North East ALBERT SIMPSON explains how electricity works.
Man’s discovery and ability to utilise the natural phenomena of electricity has perhaps changed the world like no other. From its beginnings, bringing daylight to the darkness of night, right through to its facilitation of the modern digital age, there is certainly no denying electricity’s importance.
As far as North East England is concerned few regions have played such an important part in the development of electricity as a resource to serve man and this was particularly the case in the pioneering developments of electric light during the nineteenth century.
The region saw the invention of the world’s first electric light bulb by Sunderland’s Joseph Swan (1828-1914), whose later Gateshead home was the first to be wired for electric light. Further north Cragside in Northumberland was the first house in the world to be lit by electricity generated from water power.
In Newcastle, Moseley Street was the first street lit by electricity and the city’s Portland Road saw engineer J.H. Holmes manufacture the first quick break electrical switch.
The Tyneside-based engineer Charles Algernon Parsons (1854-1931) can perhaps make an even greater claim, being occasionally referred to as ‘the man who invented the twentieth century’ from his development of turbines that enabled wide-scale generation of electricity. However we will leave the industrial pioneers for another day and ask a question:
What exactly is electricity?
Despite the huge role electricity plays in our lives few understand it and it is a wide ranging subject. Usually if you open any electrical text books you are quickly thrown into an array of complex laws and mathematics.
I will avoid the text book stuff and explain electricity as we most encounter it, as an energy supply channelled via wires.
My previous blog something about nothing explained how over ninety nine percent of each and every atom is in fact empty space and that less than one percent is mobile particle matter: namely protons, neutrons and the much tinier electrons. It also explained how interactive push and pull forces between those highly mobile atomic particles give an atom its space, volume size and shape, and how atoms are then joined to make the solids, liquids and gases of our world.
The Electricity of Wired Circuits
Electron particles do not like one another. Any electron moving the most miniscule of distance towards another electron will transfer energy in the form of a ‘push away’ to that electron and cause it to move. Any electron moving away from another electron will reduce the ‘push away’ on that electron encouraging the first electron to follow.
A battery (above) produces extra electrons at its negative terminal and removes electrons from the positive terminal. Consequently, electrons in a wire attached to the negative terminal are pushed away from that terminal and electrons in the positive wire are pulled toward that terminal.
Push and pull forces between electrons act at the speed of light (300,000 metres a second) and electrons, being light in weight and not held too tightly by their parent atoms, respond quite quickly to those transmitted forces and move.
Electrons on the move transmit changed forces to other electrons so that they in turn move and cause other electrons to move and so on. That is how energy is transmitted along wires.
Some people may term the electron movements in a wire as a flow.
However electron movements along wired circuits are slower than tortoise pace. That is so because although electrons move quite quickly between atoms they spend relatively lengthy times in their atom home
I prefer the term electron drift to electron flow.
Let’s be clear, it is not electrons whizzing around circuits that put our lights on almost instantly. It is the light speed transfer of energy via electrons to the electrons in our light bulb that does that.
Amperage is just a measure of the number of electrons involved in a drift. One amp equates to 6.25 billion, billion electrons drifting across a wire cross section every single second. That is a very big number but it is only equal to the number of electrons in about one tenth of a millimetre of wire length.
That is just one half of a metre every hour. Tortoises can certainly travel much, much faster than that.
Why we use copper in circuit wiring.
Electrons are active in the space volumes around an atom’s nucleic centre. Scientists call such space volumes electron clouds. Each cloud can have a maximum of two electrons.
Copper atoms have 29 protons, 29 electrons and 35 neutrons. The protons have little hold on outer cloud electrons so much so that some outer cloud electrons wander from atom to atom. This electron wander phenomenon is called an electron gas. Clearly the outer electrons of copper need almost no energy to move them along a circuit from atom to atom.
Copper is a good conductor because there is little energy wasted in moving its electrons along a wire.
Air is not a good conductor. Its atoms will in normal circumstances not release electrons in battery and mains circuits, so a switch that breaks a circuit makes for an easy way of stopping electron drift in a circuit.
Tungsten was until recently much used as the element in light bulbs. Tungsten does not give up its electrons like copper does. Tungsten has higher resistance. Many copper electrons have to move and thereby push or pull to make a single tungsten electron move. When the tungsten electron moves it has much energy and when it re-engages with a new ‘atom home’ it gives up that acquired energy as radiated light and heat.
Our UK mains supply
When a north magnet pole moves across a wire, electrons in that wire are encouraged to move in a specific direction. When a south magnet pole moves over the same wire, electrons are encouraged to move in the opposite direction.
This link between magnetism and electricity is extensively used by the rotating machines in generating stations and in wind turbines to produce our UK alternating supply or AC alternating current.
In the UK supply system, an electron push followed by an electron pull repeats itself 50 times every second.
Generated supply is three phase and at very high voltage. The high voltage is in fact a high electron push and allows the transmission of high energies at low amperages. This enables the use of light-weight overhead distribution cables. The three phases are actually three lots of similar push-pulls but they are out of sync with each other.
Our homes are generally supplied with just one of these three phases and at a transformed, lower and safer 250 volts. The electron to and fro movements in the two wire (plus earth) pin plug supply of our homes is happening as a result of energy transfers between electrons (as previously described) but now over hundreds of miles and probably via several transformers.
The live brown wire electrons are being pulled and pushed whilst the neutral blue wire electrons are being pushed and pulled. This is happening even when our domestic switches are turned off though the electron moves in such circumstances are so small as to not register on our energy meters.
When we close a switch, in a typical home circuit, electrons move back and forth in our wiring about one thousandth of a millimetre, albeit thousands of atom distances. This shifting of electrons back and forth in a load delivers energy to that load, say an appliance, just as it did in the direct current battery circuit.
The electrical load is the major energy consumer. It always resists electron movement but not always in the way the tungsten bulb did. For instance, the electrical machines in our homes that rotate all resist electron movement magnetically in a sort of reverse of the generating station action.