Saturday, July 11, 2020

Jack Charlton RIP

Jack Charlton at Simply Local Sunniside Dec 16

I'm not a follower of football but I was saddened to learn today of the death of Jack Charlton, one of the country's footballing national heroes and one of the great names of the North East. He came from an era when the English team enjoyed greater success than now. And it was an era when footballers' pay packets did not resemble phone numbers.

I met Jack Charlton once, at a promotional event in Sunniside. Quite a gentleman. RIP Jack

Friday, July 10, 2020

Is a u-turn on the cards for North East devolution?

The story of recent attempts to reach a deal on devolution for the North East is not a happy one. Labour councils in the region split and went to war over plans for an elected mayor for the North East. Mick Henry, leader of Gateshead Council at the time, was one of the casualties. He was replaced by Martin Gannon, a staunch opponent of the mayoral system, though he is a supporter of devolution.

From 2015-2018 the argument raged between Labour North of the Tyne who were prepared to accept the deal on offer, and others South of the Tyne, who rejected it. Ultimately, this Labour split led to a geographic split. The River Tyne became the new administrative boundary with a new mayoral led combined authority to the north and the bits left over to the south in a new combined authority of its own. So if you wanted a stronger voice for the North East big enough to give the strategic leadership needed, forget it.

My view then and now is that it was abundantly clear from the government that devolution with its extra powers and resources was only available with an elected mayor. It's not the system I like or would want but it is what's on offer and we are better off with it and worse off without it. The choice we have is between a devolution deal with a mayor or nothing. As I have argued for the past few years, we should not let ourselves fall behind. We should accept the elected mayor model and then improve it.

I got a great deal of stick from Martin Gannon over this at the time but now there are hints that Martin is changing his mind. With a screeching of brakes and the smell of burning rubber as a potential u-turn comes into sight, Martin has suggested to the Chronicle that we may have to accept the mayoral system as its all that is on offer and the split region could be reformed back into one. Just as I was saying over these past few years.

So come on Martin, get your act together and try to keep up.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Whickham eFocus no. 136

The second eFocus published by Gateshead Liberal Democrats this week was edition 136 for the Whickham area. Issues covered in this edition include:

  • survey on your views about the way forward after the lockdown;
  • Planting Up Whickham replants Church Green;
  • new garden planned for Sunniside Methodist Church;
  • Dunston phone mast approved;
  • Ring and Read service to be launched;
  • share your lockdown experiences;
  • Whinnies community cafe opens.

Low Fell eFocus no. 64

The latest round of eFocuses, the Lib Dem email newsletter in Gateshead, started with Low Fell ward. During the pandemic lockdown, we have been using eFocus to keep people informed about local issues and the impact of the lockdown. Edition no. 64 was published this week, covering the following issues:


· Council plans to remove on-street parking and loading bays from the Fell
· Virgin Money branch - September closure planned  
· Library services available
· Still time to complete our survey about coronavirus
· Share your experiences of lockdown
· Drainage on Durham Road - some improvements done but more needed


You can view Low Fell eFocus on this link.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Gateshead Cabinet's first online meeting

Gateshead cabinet online June 20

I have argued previously for some at least of Gateshead's meetings should be held online so during this lockdown crisis, I'm pleased to see that the council have indeed held meetings online. Yesterday was the first cabinet meeting to be conducted this way. I hope that this new way of meeting continues after the lockdown is gone. Before the pandemic, it was not unusual to spend more time travelling to and from a meeting than in the meeting itself. By meeting online instead of travelling, think of the reduced pollution and congestion and the improvements to people's health by having less traffic on the road (we've seen that during the lockdown). And think of the greater reach online meetings have for the people of Gateshead. That means improved democracy. So, let's hope, as an example to others, Gateshead continues to have not only online meetings for the politicians, but also the right for staff to work from home where it is appropriate to do so.

Recent eFocuses

We have published a number of eFocuses in the last couple of weeks in Gateshead. You can view them on the links below:

These editions continue to focus mainly on the impact of the pandemic lockdown on local services. Next editions are currently being written.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Planting up Church Green

Planting Up Whickham Church Green  June 20 (11)

I am one of the volunteers with Planting Up Whickham and today we had a planting day on Church Green. All the circular beds were replanted. Social distancing rules applied at all times. The Green, as usual, is looking great!

Planting Up Whickham Church Green  June 20 (10)

Planting Up Whickham Church Green  June 20 (9)

Planting Up Whickham Church Green  June 20 (8)

Planting Up Whickham Church Green  June 20 (7)

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The passing of a hero



Ordinary people doing extraordinary things are the heroes of our country. As a social historian, I've studied and researched life during the Second World War. It was vital for success that the morale of the nation that spirits were kept up. Dame Vera Lynn played a significant role in doing that. Her passing this week sees the sad departure of one of my heroes. RIP Vera.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Wise advice



Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health in Gateshead, has urged residents to maintain social distancing despite the relaxation of some of the lockdown restrictions.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Cummings and goings

Barnard Castle Sept18 (5)

I've not commented publicly so far on the actions of either the government or public bodies on the pandemic lockdown. We are after all living though a national emergency and the worst crisis since the Second World War. But two recent events have now made me feel that silence is no longer an option. Firstly, the decision to impose a 2 week quarantine on those coming from abroad at this stage of the pandemic is nuts. This should have been done much sooner in the timeline. This is definitely a case of shutting the stable door after the pandemic horse has well and truly bolted.

The other issue is Dominic Cummings, a man not sick enough to stop him jumping into his car and driving 400 km from London to Durham. It's a five hour journey. I've done it often enough so I should know! And this journey was carried out because Cummings could not stay at home in London. Are we really meant to believe that in a population of 8 million people, London contained no one who could deliver a bag of groceries to his front door while he self-isolated? Is he really that devoid of friends?

I don't doubt that Cummings was showing symptoms of coronavirus but they appear to be relatively mild. I can well understand his desire to get out of London but the rules and messages he helped bring in are clear: he should have stayed at home.

I've just watched Boris Johnson's press conference. His reinterpretation of previously unspotted loopholes and the emphasis on grossly exaggerated health and childcare problems treat the people of this country with contempt. Watching Johnson was like watching a Trump meltdown press conference.

We should continue to argue that people should stay at home except in clearly defined and unavoidable circumstances, such as going to work when it can't be done from home, shopping for essentials and exercise. The people of this country have made big sacrifices to beat this pandemic. Now they will look on the government and clearly see a bunch of people treating them as if they are stupid and applying rules to the people of the country which the rule makers themselves do not have to follow.

The government have just made fighting this virus a great deal more difficult.

Photo above: I took this in Barnard Castle nearly two years ago during a Sunniside History Society trip. No sign of Dominic Cummings on that day but newspapers report he's been seen there more recently!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Birtley eFocus edition 6

Just published tonight, Birtley eFocus edition no. 6. Issues covered include:
  • bulk waste collection and grass cutting restart;
  • a message from your Lib Dem councillors in Gateshead;
  • new service for patients at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital;
  • exact change please on local buses;
  • theft wrecks plans for restored loco at Tanfield Railway;
  • shop local.
You can read Birtley eFocus on this link.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Goodbye Whickham Social Club, hello new specialist housing

Whickham Social Club Sept 19 (2)

I'm not a member of the Planning Committee in Gateshead but it met virtually today and one of the applications that was approved was the revised plans to demolish the derelict Whickham Social Club and replace it with 14 flats for older people. All the flats will be wheelchair accessible. It is hoped that the new flats will allow individuals or couples to move out of family homes in the area, thereby helping to increase the supply of family houses, something I've been banging on about for decades. The site which is in the heart of Whickham village and the old club was becoming an eyesore. This application will help to clear up the area as well as providing needed specialist housing.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Whickham area eFocus edition 134

Tonight we published the latest edition of our eFocus email newsletter to residents. It is the fifth since the lockdown began. In this edition we report on:
  • bulk waste collection and grass cutting restart;
  • huge fire as Dunston Staiths damage by arsonists again;
  • theft wrecks plans for restored loco at Tanfield Railway;
  • derelict club decision expected on Wednesday;
  • Whinnies Community Garden reopens;
  • Watergate car park back in use;
  • shop local;
  • 33 years!;
  • virtual surgery;
  • and now for something completely different.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Social distancing at the Whinnies

Whinnies Community Garden social distancing May 20

The Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside has been closed since the start of the the pandemic lockdown. The garden survives entirely on the work of volunteers and local fundraising. Last month I came up with the idea of having a pop up shop in the Whinnies car park to sell plants grown in the garden and jams made by volunteers. We decided to go ahead with the shop on Saturday and I gave them my entire stock of eggs and half my rhubarb crop from my smallholding to sell (the farm shop to which they normally go is currently closed). The car park was measured out and marked up for social distancing and we opened the shop for only 2 hours on Saturday. I agreed to be in charge of crowd control though we had no idea whether anyone would turn up to buy the produce.15 minutes before we opened, the first customers arrived. And then the floods came!

People fully cooperated with the grid system we had marked up in the car park to ensure social distancing took place, and when that filled up, we ended up with queues along the access lane. Within half an hour of opening, the eggs had sold out. After an hour, all the rhubarb had sold so I had to pay a quick visit to the smallholding to pick another barrowful, which sold very quickly as well.

The pop up shop took over £800, a great boost to the funds for the garden. And Sunniside was able to enjoy rhubarb pies and crumbles this weekend!

Whinnies Community Garden stall May 20 (1)

Whinnies Community Garden stall May 20 (2)

Jonathan Wallace facemask May 20

How do we keep the benefits?



The pandemic lockdown has been a terrible experience for the world as a whole yet there have been a few unintended but positive benefits. Pollution levels have dropped, the roads are much quieter, congestion has been significantly cut, the environment is getting better. The issue is, when we return to "normal" (whatever that turns out to be), how do we keep the environmental benefits we have unexpectedly experienced? I speculated on this when I walked through the empty roads of our village at the end of April when I went to and from our smallholding to lock up the henhouses in the evening. I don't claim to have the answers but just as coronavirus kills, so does pollution. We need to build a world in which both are eradicated.

Friday, May 08, 2020

33 years!

On Thursday, the local elections were not held. The lockdown put an end to this year's local democratic process. We will do a catch up next year (assuming the lockdown process is, by then, lifted.) Thursday marked something of a milestone for me. It was 33 years to the day since I was first elected to Gateshead Council at the age of 23, gaining my seat from the Conservatives. I have been re-elected since then 9 times, each time with over half the votes cast. I had not necessarily planned to be on the council for nearly a third of a century back in 1987. I had aspirations for a career in politics, either as an MP or working for the party. I ended up doing the latter but decided to stay involved with local politics in Gateshead.

Quite how much longer I continue in local politics is a decision that is not yet taken, either by myself, or by the good people of Whickham South and Sunniside. I am next due to face re-election in 2023, when I will be 59. I would have done 36 years by then. I will have to ponder the question, do I want to do 40 years? Or will I end up keeping going and wondering in 20 years' time whether or not I should do another term to take me to 60 years! I wonder what the record for continuous service is in local government?

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Whickham area eFocus edition 133

We published our latest edition of eFocus for the Whickham area (no. 133) earlier this week. Contents include:

  • Gateshead Lib Dem group video about the pandemic and lockdown;
  • Garden waste collection service returns;
  • New service for patients at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital;
  • VE Day 75th Anniversary celebrations;
  • Exact change on Go North East buses;
  • Councillors' surgery goes on-line;
  • Bird watching from home;
  • And now for something completely different.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

The lockdown living room

front room under lockdown Apr 20

BBC News carried an article recently about an organisation aiming to collect photos of the inside of people's homes during lockdown. No posed photos are permitted. And if you tidy your house especially for the photo, it too will be rejected. So, here is my picture of the tip that I call home. My floor is my filing cabinet, covered with farming and history magazines, sudoku books, packets of seeds and feed in tariff statements! Sadly, this mess could easily pass for normailty in my house, pre-pandemic!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The on-line pub crawl


Lockdown has produced some interesting and unexpected consequences. The Gateshead Lib Dem Council group has started to go on pub crawls! Well, virtual pub crawls to be precise. Cllr Vicky Anderson set up our first session on Saturday and I bought along a bottle of elderberry vodka I made a couple of years ago. Sadly, I was unable to let others sample it but I'm sure colleagues appreciated my generosity in bringing such a handcrafted piece of my self-sufficiency to the party!

Friday, April 24, 2020

Applauding carers and key workers



Like so many of the residents of my home village of Sunniside last night, I applauded the work of the carers and key workers. We just need to remember that these people have always been essential to the functioning of society. That deserved applause as well.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Low Fell eFocus 58 (Coronavirus special edition no. 4)

The Low Fell Focus Team have now produced their 4th eFocus dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. Issues covered include:
  • Gateshead Lib Dem Councillors produce video about coronavirus - watch below
  • Local Heroes
  • Focus Team phone hundreds of local residents to check on their welfare
  • Garden waste collection suspended
  • A warning from the police
  • Supporting businesses who don't pay rates
  • Ron joins Parliamentary Experts group
  • Not too late: You can still volunteer to help
You can ready eFocus on this link.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Gateshead Lib Dem Councillors' video: advice on what to do during the pandemic



Gateshead Lib Dem Council group has produced a video to advise residents on how to deal with the pandemic lockdown and how to get help if it is needed. We also warn about scams as well. All 12 group members appear in the video. It can be viewed on the link above.

My history quiz



Time to use some of your lockdown time! I first gave this quiz to the Sunniside History Society on 3rd September last year to mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 2. All the questions are about the late 1930s, the 1940s and early 1950s. Most of the 30 questions are about social history but if you want to give it a go, I will be posting the answers in a few days' time.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

The goats of Llandudno



The pandemic lockdown has had an unintended consequence: empty streets in towns and cities around the world are being reclaimed by wild animals. I've seen videos of wild boars, seals, antelope, lynxes and deer happily walking down streets that are normally congested and polluted with vehicles. The wild goats on the Great Orme at Llandudno have grabbed the headlines. I used to work in North Wales in the mid 1990s and I return there most years for a short holiday. I know Llandudno well and I was fascinated to see the goats wandering around the empty streets, helping themselves to privet hedges and generally enjoying the newly available space without, what must be for them, the terrifying racket of human activity.

When the pandemic is behind us, somehow we need to find ways of sharing our urban spaces with nature. We cannot go back to the way things used to be.

I was last in Llandudno in June last year and I went up the Great Orme especially to see the goats. After all, I am a goat farmer so I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to see the animals. I caught them on the video above, starting about 1 min 42 seconds.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Whickham eFocus No. 130

I finished the latest edition (no. 130) of eFocus for the Whickham area last night. The party politics have been stripped out. Most of the content is about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on services. The latest advice was included and we will be increasing the frequency of publication to help keep people informed.

You can ready eFocus on this link.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Delaying VE Day event

Sadly, I have just had to agree to the postponement of the events to mark the 75th anniversary of VE day, due to take place on 8th and 9th May, at Sunniside Methodist Hall. The events were to be run jointly by Sunniside History Society (of which I am chairman) and Sunniside Methodist Chapel (who have also cancelled the craft fair due to be held on 28th March). Hopefully we can rearrange the events but the coronavirus outbreak makes planning new dates rather difficult.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Disposing of the disposable

collecting donated materials Feb 20 (2)

I was called by a friend who works for M&S recently about a large quantity of disposable crockery and cutlery they had in store. The company no longer sells these products but they didn't want them to go to waste. As it turns out, the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside are in the middle of setting up a summer house that will also be a tea room. They were quite happy to take the crockery and cutlery so I went down to the Metrocentre M&S store and loaded up the land rover. There was so much that I ended up having to do two trips.

I hate the idea of single use products but it is better to have one use from them than no use. At least that way they have some value before entering the waste system. Let's just hope the days of single use disposable products are numbered.

collecting donated materials Feb 20 (3)

Friday, February 21, 2020

Delivering Focus

Whickham East Focus Feb 20

I was in Whickham this morning to deliver 370 Focuses. I managed to beat the rain but I had to cling to the newsletters in the gale that was blowing. 2 hours later and the job was done.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Low Fell eFocus 50 and 51

This is a bit of catch up as I am somewhat behind with updating the blog. Lots happening especially on the smallholding. Low Fell Lib Dem Focus team produced two eFocuses during January. Edition 50 covers:
  • Improving Low Fell's car parks - views wanted
  • Dealing with litter 
  • Council Tax expected to rise
  • Cllr Craig receives honour
  • Fallen panels on Station Road
You can view Low Fell eFocus no. 50 on this link.

Edition 51 covers:
  • Recycling trial to continue
  • Bishop of Durham renames Low Fell school
  • Council rejects school crossing
  • Lowrey's Lane car park resurfaced
  • Outrage over plans to rip up £700,000 car park that was built 2 years ago 
  • Fallen branches removed
  • A new NHS App has been launched
  • Labour Councillors force through Bus Tax 
  • Success! Plans for more woodland in Gateshead are passed

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Whickham eFocus no. 128

The latest edition of the eFocus for the Whickham area (no. 128) has just been published. Issues covered include:

  • proposals to begin work again on the unfinished house on Whickham Bank;
  • Lib Dem tree planting plans backed by Gateshead Council;
  • Cllr Peter Craig to be awarded British Empire Medal;
  • Knitting activities at Sunniside;
  • Fireworks clamp down call;
  • Polling stations moved from some local schools;
  • planning applications.

You can read eFocus on this link.

Friday, January 24, 2020

All ready for tomorrow

Birtley survey Jan 20

Our second Lib Dem action day of the year in Gateshead will be tomorrow. We are heading to Birtley to do some door knocking and a survey. I printed 1000 survey forms last night. Much to my amazement, our printing machine was as good as gold so my visit to our office in Consett was unusually brief.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Delivering in Birtley

Delivering Birtley Jan 20

I was back in Birtley this morning. A beautifully sunny and refreshingly breezy day - perfect for delivering literature. I delivered 370 calendars. My legs felt the strain afterwards!

Friday, January 03, 2020

Last delivery of 2019

Whickham delivery Dec 19

On Tuesday I did my last literature delivery of the year/decade. 370 calendars were put through doors in Whickham. Alas, next to me is a large pile of leaflets waiting for me to deliver over the next few days. At least I will get lots of exercise. I wonder if I will be able to deliver at the same rate at the start of 2030.

More eFocuses

We are only a few days into the new year but Gateshead Lib Dems already have published two efocuses. You can read them on the following links: