Virtuous circles not pedalling squares

Toby Price – Cycling Minds

Mental Health Challenges

The UK’s young people are facing a mental and physical health epidemic with the number of A&E attendances by young people with a recorded diagnosis of a psychiatric condition more than tripling between 2010 and 2018-19. Twenty percent of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year in the UK. Extrapolating this figure based on the population of Tynedale (c. 60,000) covering part of Cycling Minds’ catchment, there are potentially around 1,400 teenagers currently suffering with some form of mental health challenge in the area, many of whom don’t’ have the support they need given that less than one in three children and young people with a diagnosed mental health condition get access to NHS care and treatment.

And the problem is only worsening, with 80% of young people with mental health needs agreeing that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse – suicide was the leading cause of death for males and females aged between five to 34 in 2019. Suffering from poor mental health impacts young people in many ways and figures show that it can cause increased drop-out rates from education and a greater possibility of early unemployment, all contributing to the risk of poverty and social exclusion. Mental health and physical health also go hand in hand.

Northumberland, meanwhile, is 96.7% rural and the young people in our isolated communities especially suffer from a lack of mental health support, hidden poverty and poor job prospects. They are often hard to reach but have huge hidden and untapped potential to be creators of change in our local community, they just need to be given the tools and inspiration to do so, which is what Cycling Minds aims to do.

Cycling Minds Step On(e) guided e-bike programme

Cycling Minds is a new social enterprise in Hexham aiming to tackle the aforementioned major problems faced by young people today through its Step On(e) guided e-bike ride programme, which offers young people the opportunity to go on guided e-bike rides to improve their mental and physical health, and the follow-on Persevere to Succeed employability programme providing these beneficiaries bike mechanic, ride leader and customer service training at its home: The Link community cycle hub in Hexham.

Ultimately, Cycling Minds aims to establish a virtuous circle, leveraging cycling as a sport to engage young people initially and then foster a long-lasting relationship with them so that they can develop the skills and knowledge needed to work with the organisation as active participants in further developing The Link and as ambassadors for cycling in their local communities.

This type of approach sees Cycling Minds forming a link in a much bigger chain of social and healthcare providers who are working together across the country to fulfil the NHS’s targets for person-centred care and social prescribing under its Comprehensive Model for Personalised Care. This model aims to integrate conventional medical provision with addressing social determinants of health, recognising that many things in our lives can affect our health and wellbeing, such as financial pressures, unemployment, what’s going on at home, to name but a few.

Traditionally, someone would visit their GP because they were feeling depressed and the GP would prescribe antidepressants, but such problems cannot be fixed by medicine, or doctors, alone. That’s where person-centred care and social prescribing comes in, with patients being signposted to practical and emotional community support and a range of activities that are typically provided by voluntary and community sector organisations through link workers. Cycling Minds is just one of these organisations.

Person-centred care

From the beginning, Cycling Minds’ core social purpose and how it will fulfil this has been inspired by and informed through extensive talks with numerous local social and health care providers, among them The Living Well Coordination Service, which manages social prescribing for the 14 GP surgeries in West Northumberland. They have been hugely enthusiastic about Cycling Minds because, as they have pointed out, it targets an age group that is currently underprovided for in Northumberland. Referrers report a lack of options for them to signpost the young people they care for to organisations offering sports-related activities for that cohort, particularly sports that are non-competitive and outdoors. Cycling Minds will help fill this gap while also going a step further and giving our young beneficiaries a chance to gain a foothold in the labour market.

Cycling Minds’ first ambassador, Dr Ollie Hart, explains: “The medical profession is moving away from the ‘here’s a pill, come back in a month’ approach and instead wants to help people take control of their own mental and physical health by looking at all aspects of their lives, including their employment and finances. Cycling Minds is providing them the tools to do just that”.

Known as ‘Doc on a Bike’ after swapping a car for an e-bike for his work as a GP Partner and Clinical Director of Heeley Plus Primary Care Network in Sheffield, Dr Hart was attracted by Cycling Minds’ sports health and training programme because he has a strong interest in integrating conventional medical provision with addressing social determinants of health. He is a member of the steering group of the national think tank, Rethinking Medicine and has been championing person-centred care since 2014.

Economic Revitalisation

But Cycling Minds’ reach doesn’t end there as the organisation sees economic revitalisation as another spoke in its virtuous circle. The organisation’s goal of developing The Link community cycle hub at a permanent venue in Hexham will enable it to add to the services it currently offers, providing workspaces for cycle-related professionals such as bike fitters, physiotherapists, bike frame builders and so forth, and hosting events such as a cycle festival and film and book-signing evenings, all with a view to creating a cottage cycling industry in the town.

It also has plans to create an extensive cycle tourism portfolio with bike hire and guided one-day rides and multi-day tours around the county, working with local hospitality and accommodation providers and heritage organisations such as the National Trust and English Heritage to offer cycle tourists unforgettable experiences of the Northumberland National Park and its environs.

Hexham is an ideal location for this project lying on famous cycle routes such as the Coast-to-Coast and the Reivers Cycle Route, and at one end of the Sandstone Way mountain bike/gravel route that runs to Berwick. It is also situated close to the Lonesome Pine and Bloody Bush MTB trails at Kielder and Hamsterley Forest with a constant flow of cycle tourists coming through the town.

But it won’t just be Cycling Minds’ paying customers who can enjoy all these riches – the organisation’s young beneficiaries will also have plenty of opportunities to ride through Northumberland’s beautiful landscapes, visiting key heritage sites such as the Chesters and Housesteads Roman forts and Kielder Forest Park making use of existing cycling routes such as Route 72 (Hadrian’s Cycleway) and Route 68 (Pennine Cycleway North) to learn about the history and natural world in their local area.

As Hexham Town Councillor and County Councillor for Hexham East (Priestpopple), Suzanne Fairless-Aitken, concludes: “Cycling Minds very much ticks most of the town council’s list of priorities for the town – a sustainable social enterprise that will bring huge benefits to the health of the residents, and visitors to the town. Happy and Healthy Hexham – a win-win!”


For further information, please email: info@cyclingminds.org.

Less is More – recycling & waste reduction in Hexham

Councillor Alison Smith  – Hexham Town Council

I am giving my age away here but as a child I used to get home from school and watch John Craven’s Newsround followed by Blue Peter on the nights it was on.  I have always been a big animal lover and I remember back then being horrified at how much Amazonian rainforest was being destroyed daily, explained in terms of the area of X number of football pitches.  Fast forward Approx. 40 years and I fear there can’t be much of it left.  I also decided from watching Newsround that I was going to save the Northern White Rhino which was in danger of extinction from poaching in Africa.  When I was 17, I applied to go university but also came across an opportunity for a live-in post in a recently established charity called Zoo Check, which later became the Born Free Foundation. 

The role was to be the dogsbody for the team responsible for travelling the world monitoring animal welfare in zoos but it had potential.  I received an invitation to go and visit from William Travers but I had just received an offer of a place at my first choice university and I accepted thinking ahead to a well-paid job. I declined William’s offer to visit the Born Free Foundation.  Frank Sinatra is not the only person to have regrets.  It is only recently that I made the connection that William Travers was the same man as Bill Travers, Sunderland born actor who starred as George Adamson alongside Virgina McKenna in the film Born Free and who together set up Zoo Check/Born Free Foundation – and I, like a clot, missed my chance.   I never saved the Northern White either.  Sudan, the last remaining male Northern White died in 2018.  I think two females remain which live, as Sudan did, with a 24 hour body guard.

Forward in time to February 2022 and we are now living in a world with a climate and biodiversity emergency and this is something no school child with a dream can solve. Having said that, Greta Thunberg is having a far better crack at it than I did.  Fear of the world we live in could easily lead to depression from a lack of control, fear that nobody is doing anything and worry that it is only those with money who are heard but we must not lose heart.  Good people are doing things about it, creating imaginative solutions.   There is amazing innovation going on around the world and we as individuals all have our part to play. 

So where was I heading with my regrets?  Well, to a realisation of what I can and cannot control.   I cannot change the past but I do have some control over my present and hopefully my future.  I can choose to engage or choose not to engage.  It’s easy to convince yourself not to engage, what is the point in me making an effort when it seems so many around me are not making any effort at all and more importantly, when those with actual power to make significant change are not doing so.  The thing is though, we can collectively make huge changes and at relative speed.  Covid has proven that. 

We can all only operate within our own sphere of influence however large or small that may be.  One way we can all contribute positively to our waste crisis without any direct cost is through recycling and it does genuinely make a difference.  Ideally we should be employing the other two Rs first by reducing and reusing but ultimately by recycling if there isn’t another option. 

CLIMATE EMERGENCY

My sphere of influence isn’t vast but I like to think that I do now take up opportunities when they arise.  I have control over my own domestic waste and recycling and also broadened my reach beyond my personal affairs when I opened an ‘eco home’ shop in Hexham in 2018.  Since then, the opportunity for standing for election to the Town Council came up and although it is something I never thought I would ever consider doing, I did recognise that opportunity.  Working alongside other likeminded councillors with a love of Hexham was a huge draw and I was delighted to be elected in May 2021 and to now have the opportunity to write this blog as a result of my election. Hexham Town Council (HTC) and Northumberland County Council (NCC) have both declared climate emergencies.  HTC is taking it a step further and including the biodiversity crisis.  Both councils are deeply committed to tackling climate change with plans for greater sustainability and reduction in carbon output.  NCC has declared it aims to halve the county’s carbon footprint by 2025 and make the county carbon neutral by 2030.  As residents of Hexham and Northumberland we are all tied into those aims and can all do our bit to help achieve these collective goals.

Shortly after opening the shop I registered it as a drop off point for a couple of Terracycle waste recycling schemes.  The beauty of these schemes is that materials which are not recyclable via local council schemes can be recycled by Terracycle.  We have been a Terracyle drop off point ever since but that is shortly to end as Terracycle are focussing on larger drop off points at supermarkets.  From the end of March 2022 we will no longer be taking crisp packets and biscuit wrappers for recycling.  Although this feels a little sad as it has been a part of the shop from the start it is actually a very positive move.  More people pass through supermarkets so there is a much wider reach and it will hopefully bring more and more people on board with soft plastic recycling.  During our time as a Terracycle drop off point we have donated the proceeds we have accrued to Pennines Wildlife Rescue so as well as increasing recycling locally, our chosen charity has benefitted financially.  

I am often asked in the shop for advice on where and how to recycle in Hexham.  I’m absolutely no expert but I have gathered together some information which I will offer here.  It is in no way complete and if anyone can add more options please do get in touch and let me know, I am always eager to extend it.  Here is my summary of what can be recycled in and around Hexham:

RECYCLING AT HOME

Northumberland County Council kerbside waste collection:

Please check the NCC website for what is currently acceptable in domestic recycling bins.  The list is basically, cardboard, newspapers, magazines, clean food and drink cans, empty aerosols (lids removed), all plastic bottles including cleaning products (trigger sprays and pumps can be left on, or kept for re-use).   Metal lids from jam jars, cooking sauces etc. can also go in your recycling bin.  Please don’t put things in recycling hoping for the best and that it will be ok.  It most likely won’t.  IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT.  You might feel bad putting things in your general waste but it is better to do that than potentially contaminate a batch of recycling. Foil trays should go in general waste, unwashed. The energy recovery process creates a bottom ash from which aluminium and steel can be extracted for re-use. The burning of general waste is used to generate electricity.  Northumbrian waste is incinerated not sent to landfill.

Use a compost heap if you can for uncooked veg peelings, fruit peelings, tea leaves (remove from bag if using tea bags.  Most tea bags contain plastic which won’t compost – better to use loose leaf if you can), coffee grounds, shredded paper and hair from hairbrushes.  Remove any stickers from fruit before putting in the compost and bin the sticker.  Real cork from wine bottles can be composted, repurposed for crafts (who hasn’t planned to make a cork notice board?!) or taken to Matthias Winter.  We send them to a social enterprise which re-purposes them.  If you want to compost them at home, cut in half carefully – if it crumbles it is real cork and can be crumbled and composted.  If it is plastic it needs to go in the bin, or, they can all be upcycled and made into coasters/trivets/message boards.  NCC sell compost bins and wormeries.  T: 0844 571 4444.  NCC are currently investigating hot composting bins which speed up the composting process.  They may be available to purchase via NCC in the not too distant future.

Bokashi bins allow you to turn ALL kitchen waste into nutrient rich compost.  Meat, fish, dairy products and cooked foods are added to the bin with bokashi bran which acts as a compost activator, pathogen suppressor and eliminates bad smells.  Cooked and uncooked foods are fermented in a small kitchen composter which is then transferred to a traditional compost bin and won’t attract vermin in its partially composted state.  I haven’t tried one of these bins but intend to do soon.  Prices vary but seem to vary between £30 and £100.  Often sold in pairs.

Garden waste bins can be hired via Northumberland CC for hedge clippings, grass, weeds, leaves and small branches.  Approx. £45 per year.

Almost a daft suggestion but if you visit friends/family in other parts of the country with better recycling facilities, save items if you have the ability to store them and take with you when visiting.

Reduce waste by mending/darning at home if possible.  Support your local cobbler and businesses offering clothing alterations.  Sew N Sew on Hallstile Bank will adjust/alter clothing.  Derek’s Shoe bar on St Mary’s Chare will do the same for shoes.  Ralph & Mimi in the Market Place offer sewing lessons from beginners to advanced.  Making and mending/altering clothes helps to keep them in use and out of the waste bin.  Wabi Sabi studio also offer sewing and mending classes on Priestpopple in Hexham. Their stitch kitchen invites you to learn how to revamp, revive and repair your wardrobe.

Higher Ground in Allendale periodically hold repair cafes where you can get broken electrical/other items repaired and tools sharpened – all with the aim of keeping items in use, out of the bin and not needing to be replaced.

Non-recyclable waste in Northumberland is taken to an ‘Energy from Waste’ plant at Stockton where it is used to general electricity for supply to the National Grid.  NCC’s waste generates enough electricity to power a town the size of Morpeth for a year.

The information here has been collected locally or from the NCC document:  ‘What are the target materials for Northumberland recycling bins? Which you can find with a Google search.

There is a good website called www.recyclenow.com which tells you what you can recycle at home and locally based upon your postcode.  It also has a section where you can search on an individual item to see if it can be recycled in your area.

There is a Hexham Facebook group called Hexham Re-Use & Recycle.  Great for keeping items in use.  No cost involved, no promotion of businesses just freebies kindly offered and gratefully received.

RECYCLING IN HEXHAM TOWN CENTRE

MATTHIAS WINTER, 15 Hallstile Bank can take:

Used stamps (donated to Kirkwood Hospice in Huddersfield where my father died).

Ink Jet cartridges (proceeds donated to North East charity Being Woman which supports refugees).

Used uncoloured candle wax (given to Hexham Abbey which uses the wax to make new candles and raise proceeds for the Abbey).

Wine corks (processed by a social enterprise company and repurposed/sold for crafting purposes).

Used/unwanted bras – please take to Gail at Petals on Market Street.  They are sent to Africa and given to needy ladies to sell at markets and generate income.

Coffee cups – the best option is to use a reusable cup but if you do have a single use paper cup Costa will take any plastic lined cup (not the plastic lids, they have to go in the bin).  They are sent for processing to Cumbria and turned into writing paper.

Egg boxes – egg boxes purchased from Shield Green market stall in the Shambles (Market Place) can be returned for re-use.

Fruit punnets – return fruit punnets bought from the fruit & veg stall in the Market Place to the stall.

Glasses – please take to Specsavers on Fore Street.  Glasses only please, NO CASES. Specsavers work with Vision Aid Overseas.  Glasses are recycled to raise money to transform access to eye care in developing countries and to tackle poverty.

Hygiene products – please take unwanted personal care products/gifts to Boots on Fore Street.  Items can also be donated.  Boots collect donations for the Hygiene Bank which requests donations of:   toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo/conditioner, shower gel, razors, shaving foam, deodorant, hairbrushes and hair ties, nit combs and shampoo, sanitary products, nappies, baby wipes, toilet roll, laundry detergent.

Plastic pens, including felt tip pens/markers – please drop off at Penfax on Market Street.  Penfax send them for recycling via Terracycle.

Rags – unsaleable fabric and damaged/unuseable books can be taken to the Cancer Research shop (and probably other charity shops) and sold for rags.  Please mark bags as rags so the bags don’t need to be sorted through.  Clothing, towels, sheets, curtains, shoes and belts can all be sold for rags but NO DUVETS PLEASE.

Used towels – RSPCA shop, Battle Hill.  They are used as bedding for animals.

RECYCLING AROUND HEXHAM

Books and media:  Readable books, playable CDs, playable DVDs, playable computer games – please take to Hexham tip or Wentworth car park.

Soft plastic can now be dropped off for recycling at supermarkets.   The Co-op is the most recent supermarket to accept all soft plastics from crisp/biscuit wrappers to fruit punnet wrappers and coffee bags.

Tesco and Waitrose are drop off points for soft plastic.  Inside Tesco you can deposit used make up containers, water filters, inkjet cartridges, batteries and energy saving light bulbs.

Marks & Spencer:  Donate at least one item of M&S labelled clothing or soft furnishings to Oxfam and you’ll receive a voucher for £5 off when you spend £35 in participating M&S stores.  M&S take back used M&S coat hangers.

Furniture, housewares, bikes: adult/child – Core furniture, Haugh Lane, Hexham, NE46 3LF.  Items are collected for free.  Delivery for purchases £5 – £15

Tynedale Hospice at home, Bridge End Industrial Estate, Hexham will also take furniture and household items.

Clothing (saleable) – in addition to taking clothing directly to your charity shop of choice there are clothing bins at the Co-op and the Marks & Spencer car park (cross the roundabout) and at the tip.

Textiles for recycling (non-saleable):  Wentworth car park/tip:  All clothing, sheets, blankets, curtains, handbags and belts (NOT: duvets, pillow, carpets, rugs, bric a brac.

 Glass – Wentworth car park and tip

Cardboard boxes – Fourstones paper mill

Tetrapack – tip

Pringles tubes- tip

WIDER HEXHAM AREA

Writing instruments: any brand of pen, marker, highlighter, correction fluid – Corbridge Middle School (Can also be dropped at Penfax in Hexham who pass them on to Corbridge)

Disposable contact lenses and blister packs (you don’t have to have bought them from C & G) – Croft & Graves Optometrist, Corbridge

Allendale Primary School – check on Terracycle website for a complete list of what can dropped at Allendale as it is quite extensive.  The list includes:  all oral care products; toothbrushes, electric brush heads, toothpaste.

Garnier products

Hair colourant kits

Plastic roll on deodorants

Batteries

Recyke your bike, Newcastle.  Deliver your donation to Newcastle or they will collect.

T: 0771 170 5125             Email:  ngbarnes@icloud.com

Body shop and Lush at the Metrocentre/Newcastle will take own brand empty plastic tubs, tubes and pots.

Allendale, Slaley and Humshaugh all have recycling schemes available in their areas.  Contact the village shops for more details if you live nearer to those places than Hexham.

If ever you need boxes for packing, storage etc. ask around the independent shops.  We are always receiving deliveries packaged in cardboard boxes.  There are only so many we can use and the remainder end up at Fourstones Paper Mill.   If you can use/re-use packing boxes and keep them out of recycling that’s even better.

Hexham tip (household waste recycling centre doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so easily)

Opening times:       Nov-March:  8am to 6pm          April – Oct:  8am to 7.30pm

There is a small charge for rubble, soil, plasterboard and ceramic fittings.

Wood (no MDF or branches)

Green waste (grass, turf and soil, small branches, tree trunks – no bags)

Rubble:  bricks, concrete, tiles/ceramics (no bags, soil, plasterboard or wood)

Plasterboard only (NO bags or wood)

Mixed textiles and shoes: all clothing, all household textiles; sheets, blankets, towels, curtains, handbags and belts.  NOT duvets, pillows, carpets, rugs, bric-a-brac

Books & Media: Readable books, playable CDs, playable DVDs, playable computer (no magazines, damaged or wet items, tapes/videos, vinyl records

Tetra-pak:  paper-based liquid food and drink cartons – take off plastic lids

Bric-a-brac

TVs and monitors

Used engine oil

Cardboard

Rigid plastics: plastic toys, plastic furniture, plastic crates.  (NO UPVC, mental, plastic bags, electrical items)

Mixed recycling:  newspapers, magazines, food and drink cans, plastic bottles (no cardboard)

Food and drink cans, paper, plastic bottles (as home recycling)

Glass bottles and jars only

Scrap metal

Small electricals

Fridges and freezers

Car batteries

Household batteries

Fluorescent tubes

Mobile phones

Light bulbs

Printer cartridges

Recycling

Reduce, reuse, repair, recycle

Other schemes to consider:

Too Good to Go app.  Take away food retailers send out alerts when they have reduced food prices towards the end of the day.

Investigate www.fatllama.com which is a sharing site for communities to share items such as power tools. 

Olioex.com:  Share more, waste less:  “Helping neighbours share food and other things, rather than chuck them away.  It’s fast, free and friendly”.

Ask your favourite takeaways if you can collect your food in your own containers rather than in their plastic or aluminium containers.

Look out for another Swish event at Trinity Methodist Church on Beaumont Street.  No entry fee.  Take along unwanted clothes and swap them for something else.

Repair days – organised by Higher Ground in Allendale to repair small electricals and textiles.

Open a current account with an ethical bank such as Triodos Bank.  An ethical bank which only invests in ethical projects.  £3/month fee

SUMMARY   

Do what you can but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t.  If you have the financial means avoid plastic.  Buy packaged food in glass or stainless steel containers if there is an option.  Try to keep in mind that there is a demand for recycled glass, aluminium and stainless steel – less so with plastic.

IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT.  HOPING FOR THE BEST IS NOT A SOLUTION FOR RECYCLING

Oh, and read the children’s book The Lorax by Dr Seuss, it’s prophetic.

If you have children have a listen to the lovely Jack Johnson: reduce, reuse, recycle – 3R song.  Actually, just listen to Jack Johnson anyway whatever age you are.

My recycling in Hexham document for reference can be found on the shop website: www.matthiaswinter.co.uk

Slightly going off the subject but I don’t want to miss the opportunity on these:

Prior to Covid rearing its ugly head I was discussing with NCC waste management about arranging a Matthias Winter trip to the waste management centre at West Sleekburn.  I’m happy to organise a coach trip and make an event of it! If you would be interested in coming along just pop in the shop or email me:  info@matthiaswinter.co.uk

Litter pickers can be borrowed from the shop at any time if you fancy a stroll around town or where you live and would like to do your bit to keep the area clean.  Feeling engaged and taking pride in our community is a great way to improve the environment for everyone.  I periodically organise litter picks via the shop for the Surfers Against Sewage campaigns in conjunction with the Hexham Clean and Green Group.  We have a SAS litter pick coming up on the morning of Saturday 23rd April at Tyne Green.  I am delighted that the Hexham Wombles litter picking group organised by Hexham Town Councillor and County Councillor Suzanne Fairless Aitken will also be joining us.  If you would like to join our happy throng of Winters and Wombles just let me know via the shop.

Please consider deleting unnecessary emails and photos from your phones and computers.  Apparently huge amounts of energy go into storing these on massive servers around the world.

If you have read to the end of this, thank you so much and if you pop into the shop and say hello I’ll give you a free smile!  It’s not easy trying to maintain interest after 3,000 words on recycling!     

Reach for the Stars!

By Dr Suzanne Fairless-Aitken

Ever since I was a little girl, and my Dad gave me his old, battered copy of ‘I Spy…The Night Sky’ I have been obsessed with the stars, planets and the midnight skies.

From the wonderful Johnny Ball’s Think Again series in the 80s, Sir Patrick Moore’s long-running ‘Sky at Night’ programme, right through to the fabulous, Brian Cox and his Wonders of the Universe series in the noughties, my imagination has been fired by looking upwards at our star-studded canopy. Working out from the colour of each twinkle whether the stars are moving away from us (bluish light) or towards us (redder light) always fills me with awe and feeling our small, but significant place in the universe on this incredibly special planet we call home.

We are so fortunate in Northumberland to live in one of the ‘Dark Skies Parks’ where we can often see the silvery belt of our Milky Way belt and even the occasional Aurora Borealis – the seasonal glow of the Northern Lights that has fascinated man for millennia. For centuries people have been guided by these pinpricks of light, whether they were early sailors navigating the globe, wise men crossing sands in search of prophecy and omens, or astrologers matching people up to heavenly types based on constellations and planetary alignment. The heavens have always fascinated us and still lure eccentric millionaires into space today.

The stars are always with us, but even they ‘shift’ over vast periods of time – for example, did you know that ever-bright, Polaris, was not always the North Star? In 3000 BC a faint star called ‘Thuban’, in the constellation of Draco, held the title. Polaris did not become the North Star until AD 500, and in 13,000 more years it will be replaced by ‘Vega’ in the Lyra constellation. We won’t be here to see it, but they show that even fixed points change – there are no constants in the universe.

Often these starry sights have been captured for us by Will Cheung – the astronomer and founder of Twice Brewed Stargazing and his fabulous tele-camera, who posts his amazing pictures online for all to see. These skies are also protected for us by Duncan Wise, who along with Will, are members of the International Dark Skies Organisation whose mission it is to best preserve these spectacular ‘arial parks’ from man-made light-pollution – https://www.darksky.org/light-pollution/. This is not to say we go back in time to darkness, it is just about having the ‘right type of lighting – downward, warm-white’ and factoring it into local planning for updating old lighting and future developments.

Photo credit: © Will Cheung

I have been lucky enough to work alongside Duncan and have invited him to speak to our new Hexham Town Council full meeting on December 13th about the exciting possibility of making Hexham the UK’s first ‘Dark Skies Town’. We are only 6km from the border of the Dark Skies National Park and as one of the gateway towns into Hadrian’s Wall I feel we have a duty to protect it from further man-made pollution, other towns in the race for a bible-black night are Kendal and Penrith in Cumbria – so we need to get a move on!

New developments are going up all the time and this is great for Hexham, but not so great for our nocturnal wildlife and even us, if light pollution is not better controlled. The blue-white, brighter lights are damaging for nocturnal hunters and breeders as it distracts them and can even cause deadly harm. It also affects our natural biorhythms and healthy human sleep patterns, which is why a warm-white, downward glow is so much better for us and the natural world. This is easy to substitute at the planning stage of all developments, with no extra cost other than thought and consideration for the environment, and this needs to start happening more across all our local councils. I really feel that this is an important project for Hexham, and something we can all get behind.

On a recent family holiday in the middle of the Northumberland National Park darkness, I was amazed to see three planets all in alignment – Uranus, Venus, Mars- next to a waxing moon. It made me think just how special this blue-green rock is – our ‘Goldilocks planet’ – with all conditions for life ‘just right’ for life, in an otherwise barren galaxy. One of my favourite sights is the rather, unromantically-named ‘M42 galaxy’ – which is the only galaxy visible with the naked eye from Earth – it is basically just a fuzzy glow below Orion’s three-star belt – amusingly around the ‘crotch area’. I also love spotting swirls of nebula – those giant nurseries where stars, planets and galaxies are born, and just think on how amazing the universe is.

If you are even remotely interested, I urge you to go to one of the local observatories ‘beginners’ nights’ if you want to learn about it – or buy a Christmas present voucher for someone special. The Kielder Observatory, The Twice-Brewed Inn, The Sill and The Battlesteads Pub at Wark all run inspiring star-gazing evenings – usually accompanied by soup and hot chocolate. I went to one recently and loved learning that ‘Uranus’ (surely only named to make Scouts and Guides giggle) was nearly called ‘George’.

Even with the naked- eye you can see so much, but binoculars and some of the free star gazing apps on your phone are a brilliant help – the power is literally at your fingertips to explore the night sky from the comfort of your armchair. Prof. Brian Cox has recently admitted that he uses these new apps because they are so quick and easy to help you spot key stars and constellations, but also flag up when there is a chance of seeing the Northern Lights or a seasonal meteor shower. On the app stores – Star Walk 2, Sky View Lite, Stap Map, Stellarium, Sky Guide – to name but a few. – that show you exactly what is right above your head here in Northumberland.

When you next look up, and see the Plough, Pegasus, Cassiopeia or Orion the Hunter, just think of how lucky we are to live where we do, and not surrounded by high levels of orangey, urban light pollution, and that we need to protect that precious darkness for future generations to see. Remember, some of those stars sending you their light no longer actually exist, and have long since exploded into supernova, yet are still twinkling in a beautiful, ghostly form, watching over you and reminding you of your special place in the cosmos, and reminding us, as Karen Carpenter once said, ‘we are stardust’.
So put on your woolly hat and gloves and out there to have a look.

‘If the Stars only came out once a year people would look up’ (Henry David Thoreau)

Hexham Town Councillor – Dr. Suzanne Fairless-Aitken (Hexham East)

10 TEN TIP FOR STAR-SPOTTING

  1. Download an app – see recommendations above, and grab some binoculars.
  2. Dress for the occasion – wrap up warm -even in summer nights it can get very cold.
  3. Prepare your site – find a spot in your garden where you can see as much of the night sky as possible, away from other houses, tall buildings, and trees. If you don’t have a garden, you can also stargaze from a balcony or front step, or through a skylight.
  4. Adjust your eyes – once you’re comfy, let your eyes adjust to the darkness. Astronomers call this process ‘dark adaptation’, and it takes about half an hour. Don’t browse on your phone while you wait (its bright screen will ruin your night vision). If you need some light, use a red light torch, or a red bicycle light if you don’t have one.
  5. Once your eyes have adjusted, you won’t believe how many more stars you can see. You might be able to notice subtle differences in the stars’ colours, which depend on their temperature: the hottest stars are more of a bluish colour, while cooler stars have a yellow, orange or red tint.
  6. Look for patterns – the stars can be joined up to form patterns. You might recognise one straight away: the saucepan-shaped Plough, which is visible all year round. Very few of the 88 constellations look like the person, animal or object they represent, so you’ll need to use some imagination. I spy and the Ladybird – Night Sky book are good for drawing round them to interpret the pattern into a picture – which is helpful.
  7. Spot a planet – if you see a bright ‘star’ that isn’t twinkling, it’s almost certainly a planet. Planets are much closer, and their light (reflected from the Sun) comes to us in a thicker beam, which isn’t so easily distorted. There are five planets that can be seen with the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.
  8. Spot a meteor – as you’re gazing skywards, you might be lucky enough to see a meteor dash across the sky: a shooting star! These showers are seasonal – one of the best annual showers is the Perseids, which peaks this year around 11-13 August. The Leonids in November (6th-30th) are also spectacular – definitely worth standing out in those wintery, northern temperatures.
  9. Marvel at the Moon – go outside on a cloudless night and reacquaint yourself with our closest celestial neighbour. Impact craters appear as bright patches on the Moon’s surface, while the dark regions, known as lunar maria, are vast plains of solidified lava. A crescent or a gibbous moon can be just as interesting as a full moon, especially when seen through binoculars.
  10. Have fun!

Grow Hexham – Matching Gardens with Gardeners

Grow Hexham – Matching Gardens with Gardeners

By Penny Grennan

Gardening is one of the most popular pastimes in Hexham and throughout the country. According to Statista, the average spend on gardens per household in the North East for 2019 was £732. Vegetables or flowers, borders or pots, most people like to get their hands dirty and to grow plants. Currently the demand for allotments in Hexham is at an all time high and the Town Council is trying to find space for more allotments. During the pandemic, the Town Council set up a link with a local business to distribute surplus fruit and vegetables to the fresh food bank. There is a need for more space for growing and a demand for surplus produce.

Hexham is blessed with all the delights of a town in a magnificent rural county with lots of green space, quite a lot of it uncultivated. Many people have gardens they can’t manage and there are those in the town who don’t have access to fresh food. Couple this with the climate crisis and our need to reduce food waste and the food miles attached to much of the food that we eat, and you get… Grow Hexham.

On 30th October Hexham Town Council launched Grow Hexham, a project that matches local gardeners with idle gardens and spaces. Using recycled tools, shared skills, knowledge and food for the benefit of the grower, the owner, the fresh food bank and the environment.

Starting next year, Grow Hexham will begin to create a circular economy in fresh food. Matching uncultivated gardens and space with gardeners from the Town Council allotment waiting list, it will combine space and place with skills, knowledge and time.

The result will be: more locally grown produce, shared between the owner and the gardener with any surplus going to the Community Grocery.

There will also be a repair and recycle scheme for tools which will repurpose garden tools that are languishing in sheds while woodworking skills shares will provide raised beds. Gardening skill shares, seed shares and plant swaps will all contribute to a zero carbon, zero food waste project that is of benefit to the environment and the town.

What will Grow Hexham provide?

Locally produced fresh food

Support for those who experience food poverty

Repaired and re-purposed garden tools

A seed bank

Plant share

A reduction in food miles and food waste

A reduction in carbon emissions

Two sheds

A part time coordinator ‘s post

What are the benefits of Grow Hexham for Hexham?

The benefits of Grow Hexham will be many: an increase in community gardening, a reduction in allotment waiting lists, an increase in local food production to suit the gardener and the garden owner, more fresh food going to the Community Grocery for people in need, recycled tools and skill sharing. The community will benefit from reduced food miles and a reduction in food waste, access to cheap fresh food as well as community building through sharing seeds, plants, knowledge, skills and experience. It will provide inter-generational links and support through the shared activity of growing. It will provide part time employment for a co-ordinator.

What impact will Grow Hexham have? 

It will:

Help the environment

Boost the local economy

Increase volunteering and skill sharing

Build a sustainable community of gardeners

Reduce Allotment waiting lists

How will Grow Hexham help the environment?

Grow Hexham will see local people accessing and eating locally produced food with the surplus going to the Community Grocery, which already sources surplus food from supermarkets. This project will reduce food miles, waste and the environmental impact of importing food. Our levels of food waste in the UK are mind boggling: we waste £14.3 million tonnes of food a year. Grow Hexham will help to keep food chains local and direct the food where it is wanted and needed. The range of plots and gardens will contribute to plant and environmental diversity and a reduction in monocultural farming and the use of pesticides. The recycling of tools and implements, and the sharing of seeds and plants, will reduce the need for new tools to be made and plants grown. Composting will also be supported to increase soil fertility and soil health.

The project will involve mainly volunteers who will benefit from gardening but will also build relationships with people in different circumstances and locations in the town. This experience may lead them to apply for community-based jobs or work in horticulture. It will increase their knowledge and understanding of environmental issues and biodiversity.

Who supports it?

Grow Hexham is a partnership project between Hexham Town Council, Hexham Community Partnership, Number 28 and The Community Grocery. Hexham Town Council is a multi-party town council which is committed to environmental sustainability and building local social and economic resilience. It supports local environment groups and has four allotment sites. Currently there is a long allotment waiting list and little prospect of the town acquiring more allotments in the short term. Hexham also has many large gardens that are uncultivated.

Hexham Community Partnership manages Number 28, a community hub in the east end of the town. It has a small community garden which is popular with residents. The Community Grocery is a not-for-profit shop using surplus food from local supermarkets.

Grow Hexham is also supported by Transition Tynedale who run edible Hexham and the Community Garden on the Middle school site. We are currently approaching local businesses, the Farmers’ Market and charitable organisations for support.

How can you help?

Grow Hexham is being crowd funded.

We need to raise £8,810 by 16th December.

As with a lot of crowd funding, if we do not reach our target, we will get nothing. So, time is pressing.

At the time of writing, we have raised £1,502 donated by 38 backers with 45 days to go. Many, many, thanks to those who have already made a pledge. Some pledges are made anonymously and we cannot contact them to thank them. We would like to say Thank You here.

We are seeking support from North of Tyne Mayor’s Office, ‘Zero Carbon, Zero Food Waste’ fund. We are on Facebook, Twitter, Hexhamtv and hopefully in The Hexham Courant, but it is the people of Hexham who can make this project happen by donating, no matter how small an amount, and telling their friends about it.

If you would like to support Grow Hexham, click on
https://www.spacehive.com/grow-hexham

Thank you

Penny Grennan

Hexham Town Councillor and lead on Grow Hexham

Hexham TV interview

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2683086082000843