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Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

Archive for the tag “Community”

News just in: I’m a community fundraiser!

I am absolutely delighted to be taking up the job of Community Fundraiser for our local nurse-led hospice care charity in Berwick: HospiceCare North Northumberland. Delighted, excited and a little bit daunted.

Jackie - Community Fundraiser, Berwick. HospiceCare North Northumberland

Day 2 in the office!

HospiceCare North Northumberland is a truly local charity and provides a superb range of free support and care to adults with life-limiting conditions at any stage of their illness – and to their families and carers too. From hospice at home to end-of-life care and from drop-ins to bereavement counselling, this work is an essential part of caring for the lives of everyone in our community.

HospiceCare has been around for 20 years and is the main palliative care provider in North Northumberland. You don’t need a referral to use the services of the Hospice, you can simply get in touch and speak to one of our nurses (check the link to the website above for contact details). This year we need to generate around £660,000 to bolster the contribution of about £40,000 we receive from the NHS.

I can’t wait to work with volunteers, community groups, individuals and local businesses to raise much needed funds to support the vital and life-enhancing work of this fabulous local charity. You’ll find me in Berwick in the office above HospiceCare’s Wear & Care shop on Violet Terrace. Whether you want to volunteer, make a donation, share a fundraising idea or just want to say ‘hello’, I’d love to meet you.

HospiceCare logo

MP rides bear-back as Berwick sculpture trail officially opened.

Today was the official opening of the wonderful sculpture trail here in Berwick’s Coronation Park. Local MP, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, joined the friends and families of the children who’d designed the eight-strong sculpture trail; the sculptor who realised the children’s designs – David Gross; Parks Development Officer, Kate Dixon; her team of volunteers – Friends of Castle Parks plus the local Cadets; and various local and county councillors. The sun shone!

The Berwick Bear

Anne-Marie Trevelyan atop ‘Bari’ the Berwick Bear


This chirpy chap is one of the eight sculptures designed by local schoolchildren and realised by sculptor David Gross.

The idea for the sculpture trail was hatched during the five-year HLF-funded project to regenerate and refurbish Coronation and Castle Vale Parks in Berwick – which will complete in June this year. It’s a fun, creative way to encourage more young people and families to enjoy the parks and take ownership of them. Funding came from utilities organisation, SUEZ, the Town Council and a private donor.

The mole

The mole, made of reclaimed walnut

The sculptures were installed in two batches, plus a one-off for the Berwick Bear which, by popular demand, has been dubbed ‘Bari’ – Berwick dialect for ‘really nice’. All the sculptures are made of reclaimed wood.

If you live in Berwick or are visiting, do take a wander in the parks. Coronation Park and Castle Vale Park fall either side of the station – you can walk between the two by road or by dropping down to the River Tweed, strolling along the riverside path – New Road – and walking up again.

A couple of dates for your diaries:

Saturday 2nd June 2018: Open Parks & Gardens, 11-4pm

Staff and volunteers will be in the parks to answer questions and sell you a leaflet (£3) to guide you around the various private gardens that will be open on the day – stretching from the YHA, to Bankhill, Castlegate, and Castle Terrace. Plants and refreshments will be available at various points. Donations will support the work of the Friends in the parks.

Saturday 23rd June 2018: Picnic in the Park, 12-4pm

A family picnic day in Coronation Park (no BBQs and well-behaved dogs on leads). Bring your picnic, enjoy the park, some live music, a community dance performance and children’s activities.

Bear and Cadets

Local Cadets with ‘Bari’, who they helped to install.




Community green spaces: a precious commodity

One of the most cherished and central aspects of community life is shared green spaces – areas where people congregate, walk the dog, go for a run, enjoy a moment of contemplation, take in a stunning view, or sit on a warm bench and flick through their copy of the Berwick Advertiser!

            In Berwick, we are blessed with some gorgeous bits of the great outdoors. Over the last four years or so it has been a delight to see the parks around the castle and the station – Castle Vale Park and Coronation Park – become welcoming and cared-for spaces once more. This renaissance was spearheaded through the County Council’s Strategic Parks Project and largely funded by Heritage Lottery money. The parks – and all the community events that take place in them – are lovingly tended by Parks Manager Kate Morison and her small band of volunteers. It’s a massive job and always a work in progress. That’s gardening for you: it is frustrating and demanding; it’s also life-enhancing on a range of levels.

Coronation Park

Meadow flowers in Coronation Park. Even ‘relaxed’ gardens require careful planning and attention.

            Events in the parks (mostly free) are instrumental in engaging the community and ensuring our common spaces are used in ways that are positive and beneficial for all – and for raising funds for tools and plants. We have a Dawn Chorus walk, an Easter Bunny Hunt, a ‘Meet the Ancestors Day’, a Beastie Hunt (see below), and a Halloween event. There will soon be a new sculpture trail. Sculptor David Gross specialises in large wooden sculptures and is workshopping with local schools to develop a sculpture trail in the parks based on the children’s designs. It’s so exciting to see young people engaging with our open spaces in constructive and dynamic ways. Such initiatives are surely a massive investment in the future of our parks.

            The recent Open Parks & Garden Day (pics below) was an opportunity to buy plants, chat with Kate and volunteers about the parks, and visit seven private gardens. From Tintagel House at the foot of Bank Hill, to Castle Hills House (the former maternity hospital) you could meander from garden to garden, meet gardeners, enjoy the eclectic mix of gardens on offer, guzzle huge quantities of tea and cake, and support the upkeep of the parks along the way. It’s the second year Open Parks & Garden has taken place – this year we raised over £600: thank you! – and we’re already planning next year’s event. If your garden is reasonably near Castle Vale Park or Coronation Park, why not join in next year? Just get in touch with Kate (see below).

            Mind you, things may look quite different next year. Lottery funding for the parks ends in June 2018 and so, therefore, does the funding for Kate’s job. With no paid parks manager to co-ordinate volunteers, devote time and expert knowledge to maintaining the parks and the rolling programme of events, it will be a tall order to keep these beautiful spaces as accessible and cared-for as they are now. It seems mad that so much money should go into refurbing these green spaces, only for them to decline again a few years later.  Of course, the Friends of Castle Parks are doing our best to try to ensure that will not happen and it’s possible (but by no means certain) that Kate’s contract may be extended for a year. But then what? These public green spaces bring communities together in so many ways, it’s worth fighting to keep them professionally managed. It’s a tough battle: resources are being taken away from parks all over the country. The Friends need all the support we can get. Do make your voices heard by speaking with your local town and county councillors, joining the Friends group and/or volunteering in the parks.

More information:

(A version of this article was first published in the Berwick Advertiser 20 July 2017)


A literary festival with a heart

I am even more in love with the Berwick Literary Festival today than I was yesterday. smiley

This is because I met with Pamela Wright this morning. Pamela is a member of the Festival steering group and responsible for areas of the Festival that reach out into the community in ways that are beyond the remit of a ‘meet-greet-applaud’ literary festival.

Here’s Pamela:

The Festival has recently been given charitable status and the drive to include members of the community who either self-exclude or are excluded by circumstance has played a large part in that.

Pamela told me about three key aspects of the Festival that come under this umbrella:

1. Poetry readings in all local care homes

2. The Festival Schools Programme

3. The re-configured Poetry Café

I’m going to give an insight into area number one in this blogpost and follow up with posts – including details of events and timings – about the other two exciting initiatives in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

Pamela explained that for many years music has been acknowledged as a key to unlocking doors in the brain jammed by dementia and Alzheimer’s. More recently the rhythm, repetition and imagery of poetry has also been recognised as a powerful tool in tapping into childhood memories. Inspired by an article in the Telegraph on the subject, Pamela set about creating a team here in Berwick-upon-Tweed which, in the two weeks leading up to the Festival, will visit each and every care home in Berwick and the adjoining towns of Spittal and Tweedmouth.

The long-term aim is to develop (with hopefully some outside funding as well as the support of the Festival) a bank of laminated poems and nursery rhymes and ultimately to enable readers to visit care homes on a bi-monthly basis.

The volunteers will read a maximum of ten carefully chosen poems – such as Kipling’s If, Lear’s Owl and the Pussycat, Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade, and Wordsworth’s Daffodils.

Pamela says that, unsurprisingly, care homes are seeing the initiative as a welcome addition to their activity and events programmes.

If you’re interested in the poetry in care homes initiative, please do contact Pamela on

Tickets for the Festival are available online from The Maltings and the full programme will be available at various outlets including The Maltings, Grieves the Stationer, and Festival hub the Corner House Café. Heads up: the full programme looks amazing!

Why listen to writers talking about their work? I prepare to blog for 2016’s Berwick Literary Festival in October.

There’s something about sitting at the feet of published authors that is totally compelling. But what is it? Why do we scootle along to literary festivals, writing workshops and book events in droves? Is it for the pearls of wisdom gleaned from authors about the writing process – when they write, where they write, what implements they use to write, how much research they do, where their ideas come from, what they think about point of view, what they eat while they’re writing….? Maybe if we copy them, we’ll get the same results? Or maybe we’ll be inspired… or maybe we simply like to bask in a little celebrity sparkle dust?

Often we invest writers with a kind of mystique – a special insight – over and above the not inconsiderable skill of being able to articulate opinions and stories in a compelling way. Certainly, Victorian poets Wordsworth and Shelley felt they had a calling – had been singled out, if you like – to express the human condition with an almost prophetic perception. I’m not saying this is the case for every writer – but we’ve all read things that have touched us in a way that feels beyond expression.

These are the thoughts and questions I’ve been pondering since I volunteered to be co-blogger for the third Berwick Literary Festival in October this year (21st-23rd). I’m looking forward to working alongside my blogging partner, Dawn Tindle, a tea and book addict from Newcastle. And I’m keen to hang out with fellow writers and festival goers alike to hear their take on the meaning of life, the universe and, of course, books and writing. Maybe I’ll also get to answer some of the many questions I have! In my experience, where there are writers and readers in the same room, fascinating conversations are guaranteed. Whatever the gen, I shall share all on the Festival blog. Some of this I’ll be doing from my home in Berwick-upon-Tweed, and some from the Festival hub: The Corner House Café.

I love chatting to fellow writers and authors and hearing them speak about their work. One of my biggest thrills was popping along to the Cheltenham Literary Festival a few years back and bagging an interview with Radio 4’s James Naughtie (read about that experience here). Naughtie was discussing The Great Tapestry of Scotland with novelist Alexander McCall Smith and historian Alistair Moffatt. By coincidence, Alistair Moffatt (born in Kelso, he is former director of the Edinburgh Fringe) will be closing the first day’s events at this year’s Festival, no doubt chatting about his History of Scotland which The Scotsman dubs ‘commendable’ and ‘a very readable, well-researched and fluent account’. Moffat’s recent appearance at the Borders Book Festival – and impromptu solo talk after Gordon Brown had to pull out following the tragic murder of MP Jo Cox – has been described as a ‘tour de force’. On the Saturday evening here in Berwick, controversial historian David Starkey will take centre stage with his views on the very British Magna Carta – whatever your take on Mr Starkey, it’s not likely to be a dull evening.

David Starkey1David Starkey








Berwick also has a plethora of local writers, historians and illustrators to call upon. The blend of visiting speakers, local/community historians and authors (such as poet Katrina Porteous who’ll be doing a recital with Northumbrian piper Alice Burn, novelist Margaret Skea, and children’s writer/illustrator Helen Stephens), informal events such as the drop-in poetry café, and schools talks, is a huge strength. I shall be tracking down Festival organisers and authors and anticipate sharing more details about writers and events between now and October on the Festival blog.

Meanwhile, what about my literary (or not so literary) credentials? In my mid-20s I was a copywriter at the BBC and wannabee author. I read ‘How to’ books about writing poetry, children’s fiction, novels, radio plays. I wrote copiously in tiny notebooks. My jottings were barely legible. I scribbled down thoughts about the man on the tube with ‘the trellised face and bubblegum nose’; anecdotes about what my toddler said; and details of the habits of the rakish blackbird in the back garden. I went regularly to Swanwick Writers’ Summer School – now in its 68th year. I met fabulous people there – some of whom I’m still in touch with 30 years on. I listened to and questioned many authors – from Mills & Boon writers, to historians, to poets, to children’s authors – some well-known, others less so. Swanwick week was littered with interesting conversations, plenty of beers, much hilarity and some heartache. The return home was marked by fevered writing sessions late into the night and the rustle of ‘The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook’ pages for ‘when the time came’.

By some miracle, in 1991 at the age of 29 I had a deal with Blackie Books (an imprint of Penguin) to publish my first children’s picture book. I’d made it!


In fact, I hadn’t. Getting number two book accepted proved difficult – okay impossible. Despite the haste with which I’d joined the Society of Authors and got myself a literary agent, my first picture book proved to be my last (so far!). A few years passed and I was contracted to write a couple of pre-teen novels – one of which never saw the light of day because the publisher was bought out just before ‘Star Crossed’ (yep, highbrow stuff) went to press.

Getting books published was hard then and still is today. That’s one of the reasons it’s so fascinating to meet and listen to people who’ve done it. It’s as if for just a moment we step through the magical membrane that separates us the readers from them the writers. As we read a book, we might be touched by its themes or subjects, we may believe we could have done a better job or simply wonder at the cleverness of it all. Through the act of reading and engaging with the work we become part of the story – but the story is not ‘ours’. It’s engaging with the author that somehow gives us a greater stake in their work and their lives as writers. And that’s why I can’t wait to meet the story tellers who will share their work and their selves with us in Berwick during three all too brief days in October. I hope you’ll join us.

Berwick Literary Festival Blog

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Breasts, buildings, herrings – keeping it real

On a magazine rack recently I spotted a headline about a celebrity who’d decided to have her breast enlargement reversed. For a wild moment I imagined turning up at my GP and announcing that I’d like my tonsils and adenoids back. Oh, and my bunions, varicose veins, wisdom teeth and dodgy womb. Not really in the same league as a celebrity’s breasts, and not really procedures I’d want reversed. However, reversal isn’t always a bad thing.

“For a wild moment I imagined turning up at my GP and announcing that I’d like my tonsils and adenoids back.” 

In the 60s/70s a new town centre was conceived for Ipswich in Suffolk. Its centrepiece was a concrete tower called Greyfriars which was designed to be a shopping, commercial and residential hub – a town within a town – with 950 parking spaces. It was hated and reviled by just about everyone pretty much from the day the plans were revealed. As a schoolgirl I walked past it every day and mum parked there when we went on shopping trips. Later my buddies and I put on too much make-up and tried to get into Tracy’s nightclub which resided within Greyfriars’ concrete catacomb. Greyfriars never achieved full occupancy and by 1984, about 15 years after it opened, it was largely demolished and replaced by a grassy area. How lovely to be able to grass over the mistakes of yesteryear. But total reversal is seldom an option and the burrs of history always seem to linger and attach.

Greyfriars under construction. (East Anglian Daily Times)

Greyfriars shops and roundabout in Ipswich Suffolk (East Anglian Daily Times)

I was lucky enough to catch the recent production of Northeast playwright, Ann Coburn’s ‘Get up and Tie Your Fingers’ at The Maltings in Berwick. Coburn’s play encompasses themes of loss, female independence, rites of passage, and community through the lives and experience of three herring lasses. The turning point of the play is the Eyemouth disaster of 14 October 1881. From a fleet of 45 fishing boats only 25 made it home safely. One hundred and twenty nine men and boys drowned in the storm. Many boats reached the harbour, only to be swept past and onto the rocks. The waiting women were unable to reach their men but close enough to see them die.

Herring girls in ‘Get up and tie your fingers’: Jean (Barbara Marten) and her daughter Molly (Samantha Foley) (British Theatre Guide)

“Get up and tie your fingers: A dextrous portrayal of the sheer brutality and hard graft of life along the east coast.

The play is a dextrous portrayal of the sheer brutality and hard graft of life along the east coast. In those days the cry of, ‘Get up and tie your fingers!’ brought female gutting crews pouring to the harbour to greet cobles laden with herring. The women’s fingers would be ready wrapped in strips of cloth to protect them from the curing salt and the gutting knives as they prepared and packed the silver darlings. Coburn’s play is also a joyful and poignant celebration of a time when these resilient herring lasses were independent and free to travel when most women weren’t and it encapsulates the visceral connection between living on the coast and making a living from the sea. It is all the more powerful and personal because as it travels from Musselburgh down the coast to Hastings – taking in Cockburnspath, Berwick, Kings Lynn, Hartlepool, Hull, Grimsby, Great Yarmouth, Margate and Folkestone  – it is partnering with a local community choir in each town.

Herring girls in Berwick-upon-Tweed (Berwick Record Office – also see Mouth of the Tweed)

And the marvellous ‘Follow the Herring’ exhibition is going with it. At the Gymnasium Gallery in Berwick, a full-sized knitted coble formed the centrepiece with a network of quirky and colourful local art, crafts, information, and personal stories swirled around it like a wave of beautiful flotsam. If you happen to be in any of the places left on the tour I urge you to catch this wonderful package.

But, would we go back to those days? Perhaps to abundant herring and the sense of community and shared purpose. But to the hardship and uncertainty? Probably not. Nevertheless the ripples of those times will thankfully remain in these parts because these are the stories of real people living real lives.

(A version of this post was published in The Berwick Advertiser on June 5th 2014)

Democracy gets my vote of confidence

You can’t dabble in politics. Either you enter the battleground ready for bruising debates and accusations of how wrong you are, or you opt to sit in the garden with a knotted hanky on your head. I am of the latter persuasion. So it was with some trepidation that I supported The Husband in his decision to stand for the town council recently.

Some of us stayed in the garden.

Some of us stayed in the garden.

Of course, Northumberland County Council largely holds the purse strings and power for what goes on in Berwick. The town council tries to get the best deal for the town under challenging conditions whilst juggling things like allotments and dog poo (not literally). The Husband had no personal or political axe to grind but a sense that he’d never felt so at home in a community. So, with a desire to work with the many groups doing exciting things around Berwick, he stood as an independent candidate for the council in Castle Ward.

Joe Poster

Being a WAG has been fascinating and humbling. Castle Ward had six candidates jostling for three seats (most Berwick wards install councillors unopposed).The Husband produced a leaflet and set about introducing himself to Berwick by lacerating his knuckles on some 1500 letter boxes. We developed new respect for postmen and women. The election process was confused by the fact that the county council elections were taking place at the same time. Unsurprisingly, many found it hard to separate the two events.

The vote count took place a day after the election in an Alnwick Sports Centre. The Husband and I arrived not too sure what to expect. It was just like on the telly! Clusters of coffee-fuelled, tired, anxious or bored people stood around the hall. At the centre was a latticework of wooden tables with flags indicating constituencies such as, Norham and Islandshires. Behind them people beavered away flipping through piles of slips with rubber thimbles on their fingers.

One of the first people we saw was Gavin Jones, elected moments before as Lib Dem county councillor for Berwick North. He and his wife, Gail, sat almost forlornly at the side of the hall, like an audience after the show has departed. We shook hands and congratulated. I spotted Sir Alan Beith in an anxious huddle. A disputed ballot paper for Amble West with Warkworth was causing high drama. Finally it was declared valid. The Tories triumphed over the Lib Dems by one vote. Had it been a tie, a coin would have been flipped. Now that’s what I call democracy!

Finally the town council count began. It was thrilling! Candidates and their supporters gathered at the counting tables to ensure their votes were correctly recorded. Unlike the county council papers with just one X, Castle Ward had three votes per slip. Each was called out and logged by pencil on graph paper. We watched the bank of votes growing under each name. Five pairs of counters were hard at it – the word was, ‘It’s too close to call.’ And, with just 39 votes separating the top five candidates, it was phenomenally close. The Husband was overwhelmed by the support he received, torn between relief and disappointment at his fourth place, and humbled by the whole experience.

Vote-counting is, I think, something everyone should witness. It is wonderfully human and fallible and levelling. Rivals stand side-by-side waiting to celebrate graciously or carry disappointment stoically (or not!). It is a reminder that each vote is counted and each vote makes a difference. I guess the high proportion of no-votes is a measure of how disengaged or disempowered many feel. And, yes, moaning over a pint in the pub or from under a knotted hanky is enormously satisfying. However, my belief that voting (not abstaining) is the one opportunity we have to change how things are done has been restored.

A version of this article first was published in the Berwick Advertiser on June 6th 2013

Community: the antidote to big business and the rip-off culture


The snowdrops and aconites are bright jelly tots against the grey packaging of our garden. This splash of colour, and the lighter evenings and mornings, should help lift that weighed-down-winter-feeling.

But it’s not just the weather and lack of light that’s been lowering this year. The news also seems particularly grey. The horsemeat saga highlights a sense that morals and ethics have gone out of the window in favour of the pursuit of ever-larger profit margins – and that great faceless catchall, ‘shareholder value’. The upside is that the episode has been good for our marvellous high street butchers – my butcher tells me that he’s had a shopper who’s never been in a butcher’s before. NEVER BEEN IN A BUTCHER’S SHOP!

Marvellous John Skelly at work in the high street.

Marvellous John Skelly at work in the high street.

Back in the news, there are uncomfortable reports on quality of care – in hospitals, homes for the elderly and those with learning disabilities. Abuse of power is commonplace. The sense of having paid for, or simply having a human right to honest, thoughtful and appropriate care, service or products seems to have evaporated. Part of the reason for this must be the increasing need to justify and quantify everything in financial terms – whether it be healthcare, education, or the supply chain.

The fact is that if financial criteria are the key markers of success you’re always going to fall short. There are always more savings to be made. Always more money to be scrabbled after. Hence, things that were free or cheap now cost more, and higher-end goods are often compromised. For example, chicken was a real treat when I was little. Now you can choose from a row of identically plump water- and hormone-injected breasts at bargain prices. Accountability becomes a paper exercise.

On the day I’m writing, a supermarket chain announced it will source all its meat from UK suppliers. It’s to ‘reassure’ because people have ‘lost faith’. Let’s face it, all the huge food suppliers are on the back foot looking to salvage the most customers they can from a murky business. Once the dust settles, bad practice will slip seamlessly back into play.

But maybe that guy who’d never been in a butcher’s shop is a timely reminder that lots of us have forgotten how to shop for essentials, if not daily, then more than once a week. That we’ve wandered away from the high street – the greengrocer, the baker, the deli, the small supplier. And while our backs were turned, well, the high street has all but disappeared and we’ve been lumbered with big, bigger and biggest.

So, what to do?

Well, I say, three cheers for the local community. Working together to hang on to what we’ve got – like our high street (The Green Shop, The Market Shop, Retro, Danish Design, Berrydin Books, Grieves Stationers and many more), like our maternity unit and hospital, like decent train timetabling, like our heritage and open spaces. The more we use these resources and fight to keep them, the more they’ll succeed and, hopefully, the more enterprises and services will join them.

One of the reasons Berwick is such an exciting place to live – and why, like us or loathe us, it attracts incomers like me –  is the amazing amount of goodwill within the town, a palpable sense that change for the greater good is not only desirable: it’s doable.

So I am looking forward to seeing how the Portas money is spent to benefit our town. £200,000 may be a drop in the ocean. But it’s drops that cause waves. I am delighted by the Berwick’s Park Project and intrigued to see what comes of Arch’s scheme for renewal and regeneration.

Because I still believe that a local community that works, shops, plans and parties together can find ways to buck the news trends, shrug off the winter greys, and put a spring twinkle into its own steps.

A version of this article appeared in The Berwick Advertiser on 7 March 2013

Drama & demos, fun & festivals, laughter & aching legs: Another fab year in Berwick

Calendar Girls at the marvellous Maltings – you can still get copies of the fab cast & crew calendar at the Maltings or on line here

As we’re approaching Christmas I thought I’d partake in that age-old tradition of ‘looking back’. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, looking back –  whether with a sense of yearning, a frisson of shame, or a wry smile – is an inevitable pastime. So, in this festive season, bear with me as I glance back over my musings in this column during 2012.

In January my post-holiday glow, gave me cause to celebrate the plethora of events and functions in and around Berwick. Many still to come this year – from the Dickensian Market (9th December), to the Spittal torchlit parade (December 14th), complete with camels this time! I gave three cheers for the pioneering spirit that ensures that treasured traditions continue and new things are thrown into the ring; the lights on the Royal Border Bridge, now fully functioning and gorgeous; and the colours of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, which, come August 1st 2013, will hopefully be central to a thrill-a-minute civic week.

February was the month when Scottish independence and broody hens made curious nest fellows. With a referendum due in 2014, Berwick’s claim as the Monaco of the North needs to be shouted loud and proud. As for hens, I managed to pop fertilised eggs under our broody hen who, miraculously, hatched two gorgeously cute chicks. One is now the noisiest cockerel in Berwick.

The chicks. One is now the noisiest cockerel in Berwick

The chicks. One is now the noisiest cockerel in Berwick

The inescapable inability to keep New Year’s resolutions slapped me reproachfully in the face in March. But, happily, so did the beauty of the surrounding countryside as charity and exercise collided in the form of training for the Edinburgh MoonWalk.

Mary Portas fever hit in April as the first-round bid for funding gripped the town. As in so many things in life, success came second time around. Hopefully uniting behind a coherent vision for Berwick will follow seamlessly.

By May training fatigue plagued me as did fury at the amount of litter that people insist on dumping – particularly from cars. June brought a train timetabling rant after a five-hour journey twice took eight hours – I am fearful that East Coast Mainline’s habit of dropping Berwick from key routes to regain time might mark the whittling away of what has been a fantastic London and southeast-bound service.

Will Berwick's train service be whittled away as trains sail straight through on some routes to save precious minutes

Will Berwick’s train service be whittled away as trains sail straight through our station to save precious minutes?

In July, following on from June’s Jubilee and Olympic fervour, I celebrated Berwick’s ability to lay on a jolly good day out. I hoped – and still do – that we might become a renowned town of festivals.

August was a month off for me – but the people of Berwick continued to plan, party and campaign – notably in the march to keep Berwick’s Maternity Unit open.

September: two more festivals! The Food Festival and Film & Media Arts. Plus October’s all-new Frontier Music Festival. All fabulous. All attracting a wide variety of people to Berwick. All back in 2013.

Change and its challenges were hot topics in October – brought on by our own lengthy building works and the many positive plans being hatched for Berwick. Deep down I know we are doing the right thing in updating and modernising our home – but the process is not always easy or without conflict. This, I mused, is a bit like keeping up the momentum for change in Berwick.

I wafted (rather bravely I thought) into windpower in November. Another brave move for me was appearing at the marvellous Maltings in Calendar Girls. Having marched round Edinburgh in my bra for breast cancer, it seemed only fair to walk the boards in – well, not much really – for Leukaemia and Lymphoma research.

I have had a fabulous year in Beautiful Berwick – thank you for letting me share some of it with you. And, as the windmill might say to its sails: ‘What goes round, comes round.’ So, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

(A version of this article was published in the Berwick Advertiser on 6 December 2012)

A jolly good day out in Berwick

A day out – at home!

I do love a good day out. And if it’s a good day out just outside my front door, so much the better. And, my goodness, we’ve had a couple of great Berwick days during the damp, bleak month of June – both garnished with lashings of community spirit and, miraculously, sunshine.

I know many staunch republicans absented themselves from all things Jubilee, but I confess that, despite my ambivalence towards the monarchy, I enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to partake in a bit of neighbourly togetherness.

And, oh, what fun we had. The Parade was packed with all sorts: superbly priced, efficiently delivered, deliciously tempting sandwich and cake platters; a charity raffle; a mega inflatable slide; marvellous entertainment from Norham Brass Band (loved the Abba selection and can-can!), the mellifluous Mamatones, the anarchic Berwick Broadcasting Corporation, and much more besides. Families supped, chatted, laughed and sunned themselves. How idyllic.

The following week the Olympics, another event from which I’ve kept my eyes firmly averted, made its presence felt in Berwick’s sunny streets. Again, despite my misgivings about the corporate handcuffs applied to the so-called ‘People’s Olympics’, I looked forward to a second opportunity to gather with the good folk of Berwick to wave flags and enjoy bunting and laughter.

The Olympic Torch enters Berwick – ready for mass flag waving

Two national events that, although perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, prompted two brilliant community days. Days that left me with a warm glow about my adopted town and its ability to put on a good bash. When it counted, people flooded into the town, lined the streets, found places to park, walked to where they needed to go, chatted to each other and cheered each other on. It didn’t matter that our high street can perhaps seem a bit grim, or that the parking isn’t ideal: people came and enjoyed.

We, as a town, are rather good at this sort of thing – the party or festival that brings the community together, piques the visitor’s interest and makes them welcome. And it’s that ethos of the ‘good-day-out’  that might well become a unifying factor as we wrestle with all the various elements that conspire to make things tough for us – from devolved administration to economic constraints.

Our streets teem with people trying to make a case for improving Berwick’s lot – or simply improving it bit by precious bit. By the time this goes to print, the first Town Tidy Up of the year will have happened. Organised by Città Slow and Berwick in Bloom, supported by the newly formed Berwick Deserves Better – the aim is to tidy, clean, mend and paint community areas such as Eastern Lane by the Maltings, around the station and Castle Vale Park, and deal with graffiti in places like Woods Wynd. Meanwhile, the Town Team is busy polishing the second bid for Portas funding. Additionally, Arch (established by Northumberland County Council to stimulate regeneration and growth in Northumberland), is hatching a methodical approach to developing ‘a programme for Berwick which will make a significant contribution to competitiveness, place quality and sustainability, but which is also realistic, pragmatic and deliverable.’  Which, hopefully, will bode well for a number of prime redundant sites in Berwick, including the Kwik Save building.

So, let’s hope that, in time, such initiatives coalesce to make a lasting impact on the quality of life for those who already live and work in Berwick as well as those who visit. As one person I spoke to said: Berwick is a quality town. We have the history and heritage that makes people want to call in; we have the boutique B&Bs that attract people to make Berwick a base from which to visit other locations; what we need are the add-ons that make people who visit linger a while –  and enjoy a jolly good Berwick day out.

(A version of this article was first published in The Berwick Advertiser on 5th July 2012)

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