Steve Russell discovers a region packed with positivity, demonstrating that come what may, our indomitable Northern spirit will never be defeated.
These are strange and deeply troubling times. Heartbreaking images of patients on ventilators, the awful daily death toll, and crippling economic pressures are enough to induce despair. However, amidst the darkness, there is so much light. Our incredible NHS staff (and all the unsung heroes in care homes, schools, shops, takeaways, factories and delivery vans etc), the explosion in creativity, beautiful acts of kindness, and remarkable individual endeavours, such as that of Captain Tom Moore, remind us that the best of humanity often emerges from the most extreme adversity.
On a personal level, Ive taken my fledgling ukulele career into ever more psychedelic territory, and recreated surrealist works of art for a hoot of a Facebook group! As a diversion from my slow descent into depravity, I thought Id highlight some of the amazing things happening in our region, and how you can do your bit to ensure it remains a fabulous place to live when this finally ends. So here goes!
No sector has been hit harder than the arts, but as you would expect from those clever creative types, theres been a remarkable response. One of the best ways to support your favourite venues is to purchase tickets for events later in the year, or vouchers in lieu, available direct from venues or via appeals like Stocktons Help the Georgian Theatre on Crowdfunder. Uncertainty and speculation continues around exactly when venues can reopen, but there are some fantastic autumnal treats on the horizon, including award-winning Kinks musical, Sunny Afternoon, at Sunderland Empire, the Horrible Histories tour, visiting Whitley Bay Playhouse, Darlington Hippodrome and Durham Gala Theatre, and the acclaimed Dads Army Radio Show at Alnwick Playhouse. You should check before booking, but refunds or credit are generally guaranteed, should social distancing be extended beyond the summer. One UK-wide initiative well worth a look is National Theatre at Home, where you can view some fantastic filmed stage productions for free, via their You Tube channel, with premieres airing on Thursday evenings.
Two iconic independent venues hit particularly hard, were The Tyneside Cinema and The Cluny in Newcastle. Both issued appeals for funding in the early days of the crisis and were overwhelmed by the generosity of the response. This has given them vital breathing space, but like hundreds of venues across the region, they will need more help the longer this lasts, so lets keep our future vibrant! Newcastle blues bar, Billy Bootleggers, has promised to double any donations to their Crowdfunder appeal in the form of drinks vouchers, so what better reward for charitable spirit than their delicious moonshine!?
One of the great innovations of this crisis has been the at-home concert. Barnard Castle Facebook collective, BC: Locked Down and Loaded, hosted an evening in April which raised over £12,000 for the NHS. Gareth Beddard, who set up Live Jam @ Lockdown on Facebook with other local musicians, tells us how it came about: “Myself, Mark Dickinson, Kirsty Jamieson and Chris Kinley set this up to combat the prospect of three months without work, and as a means of keeping the local scene together. We put together an initial line-up, which went down really well, and the group now has 28,000 members. Weve been running 9 shows per night from Friday to Sunday, and we were inundated with requests from performers, which shows how much talent is out there! Weve raised vital funds to get PPE equipment for front-line workers via the Masks For NHS Heroes appeal, and although weve decided to scale back our shows to a monthly schedule in the wake of the governments decision to ease lockdown measures, were exploring the possibility of a celebratory festival in 2021”.
Another North East musician raising funds for the NHS, is pianist, Mark Deeks. Marks Facebook concerts have included his brilliant interpretation of Mark Knopflers classic (and NUFC anthem) Local Hero. This has proved so popular, that Mr Knopfler himself has allowed Mark to release his version as a charity single, available for a minimum donation of £3 from markdeeksmusic.com.
While they await the green light to reopen, many local pubs and restaurants
are offering takeaway services, and ordering some of your favourite grub is a
great way to keep their coffers flowing. Most are listed on delivery websites,
with many also taking orders directly. Some vendors are also participating in
vouchers schemes, such as the Street Food Vouchers Crowdfunder initiative,
set up by The Free Trade, The Cumberland Arms and Mean Eyed Cat in
Newcastle, to support indy food traders like Scream for Pizza and Goodtimes
Tacos. Wylam Brewery have joined forces with other independents across the
UK, under the Buy the NHS a Pint banner, where online donations will be
used to create a tab for NHS staff to enjoy some richly-deserved tipples when
this is over.
Most North East museums are charities, and as such have active online
campaigns for financial support, but despite their difficulties, theyre
maintaining connection with their communities through voluntary work or
via interactive online resources. The National Museum of the Royal Navy,
Hartlepool has been supporting the community organisation, The Poolie Time
Exchange, who are delivering care packages and hot meals to the elderly and
vulnerable. Meanwhile, Newcastle Discovery Museums website has got you
covered if youve ever wanted to have a crack at building a balloon-powered car! Contemporary Visual Arts Network North East (CVAN NE) has created 30 Creative Space Residencies, as a means of supporting local artists during the crisis.
With so many of the regions businesses suffering, The North East England
Chamber of Commerce has been actively fighting their cause, as Jonathan
Walker, assistant director of policy, explains: “Through our partners the
national British Chambers of Commerce, we have campaigned to change
measures which were not helping businesses sufficiently and have successes
including the announcement of the new easy access financial support for
SMEs in particular. We have also initiated a hub to enable businesses to
supply and manufacture PPE where front line services were in urgent need of
help which has been really successful.”
The North East COVID-19 Response Group has been launched, with the remit
of providing maximum support for businesses in the immediate term and to
plan for long-term economic recovery. The scheme is a joint venture between
The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), CBI, North of Tyne and
North East Combined Authorities and alongside The North East Growth Hub,
and is providing a vital resource for guidance and support.
Adrian Waddell, Chief Executive of NE1, describes their response to the crisis:
“NE1 has worked hard during lockdown to help businesses navigate the
complexities of the Governments extensive business support packages. As we
look forward to emerging from this crisis we know that things will be different
and hope that many of the changes can be for the better.
One positive change we expect to prevail is the spirit of thinking local. During
the crisis, people have discovered the benefits of shopping closer to home
and supporting local traders. This trend could crystallise to become a valuable
point of difference for businesses as they develop their post-Covid offer.
We know the economy has suffered and it will take time to recover. It is,
therefore, beholden on all of us to try to remain positive, continue to talk up
Newcastles many strengths and maintain enthusiasm for investment and ongoing development in the city.”
One organisation at the forefront of the regions drive to produce PPE
equipment is Sunderland University, who have adapted their Sustainable
Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) project, in response to the crisis. The ERDF
funded project was initially founded to support the implementation of
product and process development, and the introduction of technology to
the North East SME manufacturing sector. Project Manager, Ken Teears,
elaborates on how they’ve refocused their priorities, following the COVID-19
outbreak: “Essentially there are two strands to what we are doing. Firstly,
SAM technical staff and the team at our Institute for Automotive and
Manufacturing Advanced Practice (AMAP), have created and manufactured
the Hulse Sunderland Face Shield, an ICU approved face shield, developed
in consultation with clinicians at Newcastles RVI Hospital. Weve already
distributed hundreds of these to front line healthcare staff, and we are
finalising scalable solutions for a company to make potentially 25,000 per
week. Secondly, were supporting manufacturers to react to COVID-19
through two new grant funds; one for the manufacture of PPE and the other
for capital investment to support manufacturing resilience and adaptability.
SAM can provide financial support in the form of grants, and our technical
team can advise on how technology and processes can be adapted to help
sustainable manufacturing. Visit samprojectuos.co.uk for more details.”
This sort of enterprise has been mirrored across the region, and Northumbria
Health Care trust have recently established a new manufacturing and
distribution hub in Cramlington. The new facility is on lease from Wingrove
Motor Company and is producing 6,000 medical gowns per week, for use by
frontline healthcare staff. Sarah Rose, MD at Lucas Jacob Ltd and volunteer
Michael Rose, were instrumental in its creation, and the facility forms part of
a wider network of businesses and volunteers manufacturing up to 71,000
gowns per week for the NHS in the North East.