Alex Nelson ran Chester-le-Track for 18 years with railway station offices at Chester-le-Street and Eaglescliffe station. The increasing move to on-line bookings by apps and laptops prompted a move to transfer the station operations to Northern Railway and Grand Central respectively, and concentrate on the online booking through a new company, National Rail Bishop Auckland Ltd and the website www.nationalrail.com Here he discusses his favourite aspects of life in the North East...
Did you grow up in the North East or did you decide to relocate here in later life?
I was born in Greater London in a village near the top of the North Downs called Biggin Hill, home of a wartime RAF fighter station. I went to school in south London, and moved to study geography at University College, Durham in 1980. On graduation I was recruited by the National Bus Company as a trainee in Norfolk, and was posted to what was then the Northern General Transport Company in Gateshead, rebranding as Go-Ahead Northern, in 1985.
What do you think it means to be a businessperson in the North East of England?
It’s a tremendous privilege to live here, and I do work several days a month in London with a charitable foundation which I chair. There I seem to have this secret life as a railwayman in the north, and here I have a secret life in London giving money away to charities UK-wide. I try to act as an ambassador for the North East even though I am a Londoner, not an adopted Geordie! I would paraphrase from a map of the Durham palatinate on my home staircase: I am a southerner “locally situated in County Durham”. What is your favourite aspect of life in the North East?
I enjoyed working with my team at Chesterle-Track for 18 years, excellent people, but now I work alone and have colleagues in other businesses. I like my connections with various business clubs and connections in the Rotary Club in Chester-le-Street and at University College in Durham. I like the fact there is always something going on, from exhibitions to theatre and brilliant events like Kynren in Bishop Auckland, where my new business is based, which are attracting new visitors to the region. And the horse racing is good too.
Do you have a favourite hotspot for a business meeting?
I like to show off my home town of Chester-le-Street, where the Lindisfarne Gospels were first translated into English around 970, or invite guests to the Senior Common Room or for lunch at Durham Castle. I would recommend Best Western Beamish Hall. I also use the new Indigo hotel in Durham which has been brilliantly restored after standing empty, formerly the County Hall and University HQ.
Where do you like to eat out in the region?
No favourite regular restaurants, but I do like the Northumberland Arms at Felton, and the Commissioner’s Quay in Blyth. Crinnions in Lanchester, Old Mill at Knitsley, the Stanley Jefferson in Bishop Auckland (where Stan Laurel was NOT born) to name just a few: we really are spoiled for choice in the North East.
Where do you like to unwind within the North East?
In my garden, a haven within a County Durham pit village with spa pool and summer house, all planned and specified by my wife. I often sit out even after sunset, or get out on the C2C route 7 which runs through Pelton on my mountain bike. I can get to Sunderland and back in an evening.
Are the people really friendlier?
Yes, I think they are, but with training over several years, other regions are catching up. Some of the customer service in London is really good nowadays, and that wasn’t the case a decade ago. It’s not only about being friendly, but efficient and competent.
What do you think is the best view in the North East?
You mean apart from the eastward view from an East Coast mainline train from Durham to Berwick? From Durham station overlooking the Castle and Cathedral, and the Friary chapel in Alnmouth looking out beyond the garden to the sweep of Alnmouth Bay towards Amble.
Do you think living and working in the North East offers the same opportunities as elsewhere in the UK?
Yes, better actually. The weather is more benign than other parts of the country, transport is good (not saying it couldn’t be improved, like the express Tyne Tees rail link via Chester-le-Street), and not so riven with congestion as other regions, and the quality of business and financial advice available is as good as you’ll find anywhere, often superior.
Have you had any experience of working elsewhere and how did it compare?
I lived and worked in Norwich 1983-5 but it was not long enough to call it home. I prefer to live in the north east and from knowing nobody when I first arrived, now many of my networks and contacts and family are here. I have no intention of moving away.