Friday, March 5, 2010


Returned today from 24 fairly mad hours in Newcastle where I did a keynote address to ACEVO North's conference at the ultra-modern Sage Centre, Gateshead, known also to the locals as `The Slug', due to its funny shape.

I made the mistake of saying how good it was to be back in NEWCASTLE, but several members of this lively audience immediately put me right on that one. Otherwise it went well. My usual message of optimism, the need for bold, upbeat leadership and opportunism in troubled times.

Other presentations set out the opportunities and risks of post 2011 in more detailed terms. It's all getting familiar now so I won't repeat.

Also caught up with two third sector CEOs, Liz Wright of Skills for People and Hannah Eyres of Keyfund, one of the Impetus Trust charities. Skills for People is where it all started for me in terms of my ideas for what became Speaking Up. I volunteered there for three years which is when I met Liz who was CEO back then. She is still there today, enjoying it and grappling like all of us with the future-question. In a way Skills is what Speaking up would have been had it remained in one main location. Intensely local, able to change quite quickly, probably a bit easier to manage / control - but also very dependent on a few key relationships. Fantastic organisation still, though, and I always feel indebted to them for the opportunity they gave me as a 22 year old with ideas above his station!

I also catch up with some buddies. One, Graham, who was at college with me has had his life blighted by serious mental illness and, while coping admirably, has struggled to meet his high potential, a source in itself of some understandable anguish. We tend to speak every week on the phone but meeting is often quite tricky for him as he tends to become anxious and paranoid after a while. It goes well though, and we call it a day after an hour.

Newcastle, for me, is always a pilgrimage. My formative years (18-24) were spent there and the place feels mixed up with who I am. Decreasingly so, as the years wear on, but I am always transported when I am there. Like me, the place has changed beyond recognition since the late 80s when it was still in post-industrial malaise. Indeed, the Sage Centre, where I stood earlier today, was just a scrapyard on the deserted south bank of the river Tyne. I can think of no other English city, bar perhaps Manchester, which has seen such profound physical change in recent years as Newcastle.

I jump on the train back at lunchtime, view the bridges over the Tyne and settle down to `The Pinch' - the new book by David Willetts. Its an impressively researched and beautifully written book about intergenerational justice by a man who is the kind of Conservative I have always liked and, indeed, share many views. Even if you don't like Tories, read this book, you'll be surprised at its thoughtfulness and insight.

At Peterborough I leave the rail network. Crossing England is nowhere near as easy as getting up and down and this is where I leave my car. If Newcastle is one of my favourite cities, Peterborough, for a host of reasons, is my least. Bland, ugly and spiritless, with a slight tinge of menace, I am always relieved to be back on the A1. To home. Wilfred awaits me with characteristic happiness soon to be joined by his rather more sophisticated sister, who weighs coming to see me versus going straigh to the TV and, wisely, comes to say hello.

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