There is a saying that home is a place where you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.
I certainly think there is more than a grain of truth in this. Although I run a think tank and business consultancy company from Stockholm, Sweden these days the North East is never far from my thoughts.
I was born in Aldbrough St. John, North Yorkshire then moved to Darlington as a toddler. The North East – along with a loving family and friends – has been the starting point for everything. 45 years later, no matter where I live or travel, it is still the centre of the world, although COVID-19 restrictions have enforced a separation that will be familiar to many with friends and family living outside the region. I went to school in Darlington before heading off to University in France and Belgium as well as England. By this time I had decided that I wanted to see a bit of the world and it would be great to get a job that would facilitate this while also picking up the tab! After working for the European institutions and a trade association in Brussels, I was employed by an international communications agency when I got the opportunity to lead operations in the Nordics, Baltics and Central & Eastern Europe. Stockholm therefore became the new base, despite the freezing winters and the equally bone-chilling taxes.
Different approaches to COVID-19
While the North East and the rest of the UK has been hit by successive lockdowns under the pandemic, Swedish life has been less impacted. Many schools did not close while gyms, restaurants, shops and bars have kept their doors open throughout the COVID-19 crisis, albeit with restrictions in place. The majority of the population who can are working remotely – and many will continue to do so this autumn and beyond – while following the light-touch rules.
A Swedish affection for the North East: just don’t mention Brexit
Brexit is a bone of contention for Swedes and is viewed with sorrow and resentment by many. Swedes like the English and have a particular affection for people from the North East: it must be the common Viking roots! Our sport, music and fashion are all keenly followed across the country. Swedes also see England as an important trading partner as well as a great place to spend a long weekend. London may top the charts but I am trying to shepherd Swedes up to the North East and promote the merits of the region to as many as I can at every opportunity.
My jewels in the crown
Most of all I miss family and friends when I think about home, as well as the openness, friendliness and biting humour of North East folk. Our region has so much to offer too and if I had to make a selection of my favourite places then a few locations would stand out. If the weather is anywhere near decent then Saltburn should be top of the list. Have a game of crazy golf overlooking the North Sea and then stroll along the beach before picking up a delicious battered cod and chips and then take the Cliff Tramway for some great views of the pier and the coastline.
Equally impressive – and often overlooked – is Darlington’s South Park. This is home to a fascinating mixture of trees, birds and even an African Grey Parrot that is never lost for words. The park is equally beautiful in summer or winter for a walk. You will even find a piece of track from the world’s first railway and a canon captured from the Russian army during the Crimean War. Something to check out with an ice cream in hand. My heart remains in the North East, and I will make every effort to promote the area as a cheerleader and – hopefully – an ambassador. Our region is a slice of heaven: it may be that we need an element of distance to fully appreciate it as such.