13 September 2019
At the start of the summer holidays, I visited Berwick-Upon-Tweed. I have passed through on the way to Scotland on numerous occasions, but have never spent time in the town. One of my oldest friends and colleagues is from Berwick and we decided to spend a day visiting the touring Turner Exhibition, Northern Exposure, at The Granary Gallery. The exhibition features a number of his sketches and paintings from his tour of the North in 1797, most famously his beautiful study of Norham Castle. Turner commented on the beauty of the countryside in Durham and Northumberland and, in a reversal of the clichéd narrative, made his name and fortune by heading north.
In Berwick we followed the Lowry way, walked along the Elizabethan Walls and ramparts, went down to the riverbanks to view castle ruins and finished in the town centre. Like all towns and cities in 2019, there were obvious signs of austerity and pressure on the local authority to provide services, but there were also lots of independent cafes and shops and an obvious sense of community. The train journey took us along the Northumberland coast, one of the most beautiful parts of England. If this sounds like a poor travelogue with no bearing on school life, let me explain why it might be relevant. When not trying to stage a theatrical re-enactment of the civil wars of the 1640s, the current and most recent governments have started to talk about some problems facing schools. Small things like funding, student numbers and teacher retention. They have also failed to meet targets for teacher recruitment. This has a very specific regional context too. In June, I attended a Department for Education briefing on the subject and was told that there are specific reasons why the NE struggles to retain teachers after 3 years, but that there are also difficulties attracting teachers to the region. Durham Johnston has been very fortunate in terms of recruitment and over 60% of our staff are from areas beyond the North East, but I recognise that there are real problems across the region as a whole. Similarly, I spoke with a representative of a very progressive national body (name withheld) this week who explained that it was difficult to organise training sessions beyond the Midlands or to encourage people to travel further north. As one of the 60% of Durham Johnston staff not from the area and someone who has lived in a variety of other parts of the UK, I find this very strange. I have no answer to the recruitment crisis, but would like to celebrate my adopted region and to encourage any teacher reading this who is thinking of relocating to do so; you won’t regret it. What other region can offer the following variety:
Barter Books. Get Carter. Neptune. Alun Armstrong. Observatory Hill. The Sage. Kitchenware Records. Electric Lights. Fenwick’s Christmas Window. George Stephenson’s Rocket. Crook Hall Gardens. Ouseburn Valley. Durham Cathedral and walking the riverbanks. Bluebells in Shincliffe Woods. The Quayside. The Futureheads’ version of ‘Hounds of Love’. Ben Myers ‘The Offing’. Lumiere. The Victoria Tunnels. Finchale Priory and the mist that saved Durham. The Lit & Phil. The dignity of the Jarrow Marchers. Cattle & Cane. The Far Corner. Prefab Sprout ‘When Love Breaks Down.’ High Force. Bamburgh, Warkworth and Alnwick Castles. The Laing. The Angel of the North. Brian Clough. Hurrah! The Laundrette. Druridge Bay. The Lambrton Worm. Lanterns on the Lake. Grey Street. Flat White. The Grainger Market on a Saturday morning. The Animals. Jimi Hendrix visiting the Free Trade pub and busking in Newcastle. The Tyneside Cinema. Hadrian’s Wall. The Big Meeting. Sunderland Empire. Beamish. Seaham’s Tommy. The Durham Light Infantry and the DLI Chapel. Wallington’s gargoyles. Hamsterley Forest. The Biscuit Factory. Pat Barker. Lord Londonderry’s tongue less horse. The Theatre Royal. The Farne Islands. Grace Darling. Penshaw Monument. Peoples’ Bookshop. Prebends Bridge. The Pitmen Painters. Captain Cook. The Baltic. Tynemouth Sunday market. The Seven Stories. Jesmond Dene Park. The Hancock Museum. Mustard. the Grainger Market on a Saturday. Central Arcade and Windows for instruments. Wharton Park. The Count. Laing Art Gallery. New Writing North. Charles Alcock and the FA Cup. Jimmy Allen, the Wayward Piper. The Brandon Boar. Our Friends in the North. Gibside. Cragside. Ove Arup. The Dun Cow. The Unthanks. Jack Charlton meeting the Pope. Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? Joseph Swan. Miners’ Welfare and Libaries Gave Us Power. The Machine Gunners. Ant & Dec. Cogito Books Hexham. Peter Higgs. Lord Collingwood, Paul Collingwood. Ian Botham batting at the racecourse. Ross Noble. Neil Marshall, Dog Soldiers, the Descent & Centurion. Oz, Neville and Denis; that’s living alright. Skellig. The Royal Northern Symphonia. The Prince Bishops. West Auckland Town F.C; World Cup Winners. Cuthbert, Bede and the Northern Saints. Lucozade. The Monument. Killhope. The Botanic Gardens.
If you are reading this a prospective teacher or parent, the North East is a fantastic place to live. We are very fortunate.