I’ve just spent a couple of weeks in Byker, an Urban Priority Area in Newcastle, with five others from Cranmer. In the 1970s, the old, high-density housing was cleared and replaced with the architecturally award-winning Byker Wall – but architecture doesn’t change communities, and Byker continues to have high deprivation and residents who are tired of projects being done to them.
This is a tough environment for churches, and all four Anglican parishes there are struggling with low numbers. The clergy have however poured heart and soul into the area – none more so than John Sadler, who has done remarkable work to renovate church buildings to be more flexible in their use, and better able to serve the surrounding communities. John works daily from 6am to 9pm, and sweats blood for Byker. One result is St. Martin’s church in nearby Walker, the result of partnerships with Barnardo’s and SureStart. In the photo below, a nursery is at the near end, the church at the far end, and a flexible-use space in the middle.
As a fan of Gloucestershire cricket, I was surprised and delighted by a pub on the Shields Road, the shopping street just outside Byker, commemorating the 19th century cricket colossus, WG Grace. He was one of those rare players who was not just a superstar but transformed the sport itself. The fact that a pub in Newcastle is still named after him nearly a century after his death is a testimony to his stature.
I’ve just spent a great day at Bempton Cliffs on the Yorkshire coast, with my local birding friend Jaybee. It’s mainland England’s best site for nesting seabirds, with large numbers of the dramatic gannets, the usual kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills, and small numbers of puffins and fulmars. Although the birds aren’t quite as close or prolific as on the Farne Islands, it was a brilliant experience nonetheless, and the overall scenery is just as spectacular. It was a much needed day of refreshment after the time in Byker!