Framwellgate take Youth Speak crown

Students from Framwellgate School emerged victorious in the Durham Rotary club’s annual Youth Speak programme last month.


Competing against Durham School, Durham Johnstone and St Leonard’s Catholic School in the debating competition, Framwellgate took the top prize, winning a closely-fought final against Durham School on the topic of restricting the pay of senior executives.

Hosted in the debating chamber on Palace Green, the finals had earlier seen Durham School, represented by Dylan Mistry, Martha Bradley and Alexander Smith, win a debate on abolishing private schools against St Leonard’s, represented by Alice Phillips, Charlotte Welsh and Joseph Grehan-Bradley.

Meanwhile Framwellgate (Joshua Morgan, Sarah Kingston and Christian Thompson-Hails) beat Durham Johnstone (Callum Hunter, Zeneshe Bamanji and Umair Khan) in a debate on introducing minimum-pricing for alcohol.

Run with the help of the Durham Union Society (DUS), the Youth Speak programme sees university students volunteer in local schools to help young people develop skills of public speaking and debating.

Kit Mercer, the student coordinating the programme for the DUS this year, said, ‘I took great pride in seeing how much the kids improved.’

‘We had three sessions with them and they went from being really nervous at the start to confidently speaking in front of the whole chamber about a topic they’d only been told about 20 minutes previously.’

‘I had been a bit worried that they would have been bored or disruptive but they were all really keen and a genuine pleasure to coach.’

President Martin Leake and Phil Mars of the Rotary Club presented the winners’ shield and certificates to all of the participants after the final. Christian Thompson-Hails of Framwellgate was awarded ‘Best Speaker’.

David Jackson of the Durham Rotary club said, ‘The Youth Speak programme is a Rotary programme that runs in many countries, but in Durham it is unique because it works in collaboration with the DUS.’

‘We organise all of the schools involved and they come from the Durham Rotary club catchment area: Belmont, Durham City, Framwellgate and Neville’s Cross.’

‘I think the whole scheme is brilliant and the schools are amazing. Kit and the DUS team are a pleasure to work with. They’re professional, enthusiastic and make it happen. The schools really appreciate the work the DUS volunteers do.’

Photograph: David Jackson

Durham farm sweeps up national award

A WORKING farm which doubles as a visitor attraction has swept to success in a national agricultural award scheme.


Broom House Farm, at Witton Gilbert, near Durham, won the accolade for the excellence of the educational opportunities and interactive experience it offers visitors.

The farm, run by Mark and Jane Gray, won the award for Best On-Farm Destination in the 2013 UK Farm Retail Awards.

Recognising farms which do more than sell local produce to customers, Broom House was commended for the way it helps visitors learn about food, farming and the countryside in a “hands-on” manner.

The judges also praised the Gray family for being, “passionate about their organic production and countryside stewardship, passing on their enthusiasm in fun and creative ways to visitors of all ages.”

Mrs Gray has run the farm with her husband since 2000, diversifying to first open it for public visits in 2004.

She said: “We were really surprised to win the award, but also really pleased because of the hard work we’ve done here.

“We try to give our visitors a practical experience of how a farm works whilst also giving them some exercise and lots of fresh air.”

She said that education is an exciting element of their business, with about 4,000 school children, from nursery age to sixth-formers, visiting the site each year.

“We make the visits related to their learning and what’s actually happening on the farm.

“Whether it’s A-Level biology or Key Stage 2 maths, what we show them is targeted at what they need to learn.

“We also try to reconnect people with where their food comes from.

“The kids enjoy seeing the full story of the journey of our produce from the field to our farm shop.”

Further details about visits to Broom House Farm are available via, or by ringing 0191-371 8382

Missing wooden cross on Waskerley Moor was cut down by council

A WOODEN cross which disappeared from a remote moor shortly before a traditional Easter service was cut down by the council.


Organisers of the dawn service on Waskerley Moor, near Consett, initially thought thieves had taken the 10ft wooden cross, which was erected during Lent and discovered to be missing on the eve of the Easter Sunday service.

The service, attended by more than 30 worshippers, went ahead after Methodist minister the Reverend Les Nevin carved a replacement cross from freshly-fallen snow.

However, it has now emerged that Durham County Council chopped down and removed the cross because it had been built on a Site of Special Scientific Interest and breached strict guidelines set up to protect the local habitat.

Andy Niven, countryside service manager at Durham County Council, said the authority had no choice but to cut it down.

He said: “It was dug into the ground and concreted in without any warning and without consent or advice on the potential impact it might have on this very rare habitat.

“There was nothing on it to say who had put it there and neither the council, as landowner, or Natural England, which is responsible for SSSI areas, were asked for permission or advice.

“As a result we had no choice but to remove it.”

Local hospices celebrate funding boost

Two local hospices are celebrating receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds of extra government funding.

Staff and volunteers at St Cuthbert's hospice celebrate

St Cuthbert’s Hospice, based in Merryoaks, and Willow Burn Hospice, based in Lanchester, have each been granted around £300,000 by the Department of Health to improve their facilities for patients.

Paul Marriott, Chief Executive of St Cuthbert’s Hospice, says that they plan to use their allocation of £282,369 to refurbish in-patient rooms and improve patient travel to the hospice.

He said: “This grant is absolutely fantastic news in our 25th year, and will enable us to make great improvements which will benefit both patients and their families here at St Cuthbert’s.

“This grant means that the money we raise locally, which we rely on, can continue to go towards providing the services needed by our community.”

Willow Burn Hospice, which opened in 1989, is planning to use its allocation of £356,438 to start on building a more modern facility which will eventually replace the existing hospice.

The Minister for Care and Support, Norman Lamb, announced the grants as part of £60 million of funding for improving hospices across England. In total ten North East hospices will benefit from £3 million of funds.

Mr Lamb said: “These funds will help hospices across the North East provide dignified, compassionate, high quality care and support to people and their families at what is a difficult time in their lives.”

Thieves steal cross ahead of traditional dawn service

THIEVES stole a 10-foot cross built on a remote moor for a traditional service to celebrate Easter.

Methodist minister the Reverend Les Nevin, who has led the short communion service on the outskirts of Consett for the last seven years, had placed the wooden cross on Waskerley Moor during Lent in preparation for the service.

But only a few days later he discovered that the cross had disappeared, sawn from its concealed concrete base below soil level and taken away.

Reverend Nevin said: “I could hardly believe my eyes when I returned and there was no trace of the cross. It was almost like an empty tomb experience”.

Not to be deterred, Reverend Nevin spent several hours on the Saturday evening before the service carving a larger, replacement cross out of snow.

The service could go ahead as normal at dawn on Easter Day, although the snow cross has since melted away. Reverend Nevin also had a message for whoever had removed the cross, saying: “If you still have the cross I’d like to collect it and use it elsewhere.

“However if you are so short of wood that you need to take a cross I’d be pleased to give you the £26 it cost me to buy the wood so you can buy some more.”

Labour reveals shortlist for Euro elections

LABOUR has announced its shortlist of candidates to contest the European Parliament elections in the North-East next year.

Four candidates have been included on the shortlist to contest the three seats available in the region.

They include Coun Nick Wallis, who has been a Darlington Borough Councillor since 1991 and is currently the authority’s Cabinet Member for Leisure and Local Environment.

Jayne Shotton, from North Shields, has previously served as a Labour Councillor in North Tyneside for six years for the Camperdown ward.

Judith Kirton-Darling, who comes from Middlesborough, is the Confederal Secretary of the European TUC. She has worked within the trade union movement on European issues during the last ten years.

Paul Brannen is a former Councillor for the Westerhope Ward of Newcastle City Council and contested the Berwick-upon-Tweed seat for Labour in the 1997 General Election.

A ballot of local party members will be held to decide the ordering of the candidates on the party list, with a vote expected in June.

The North-East currently has three MEPs, one from each of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.

However Labour’s incumbent MEP, Stephen Hughes, is standing down after 20 years in the position.

Labour reveals shortlist for South Shields by-election as UKIP names candidate

LABOUR will select its candidate to defend the upcoming South Shields by-election on Wednesday.

The party has announced a short-list of four candidates to fight the seat left vacant by the resignation of former Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

The candidates are Lewis Atkinson, an NHS worker from South Shields, Emma Lewell-Buck, a social worker and South Tyneside Councillor for Primrose Ward, Coun Mark Walsh, the member for Horsley Hill Ward, and Paul Williams, a doctor and GP Commissioner from Stockton.

Local party members will decide the final selection at a constituency meeting on Wednesday evening.

An official date for the by-election is yet to be announced although it could take place as early as May 2 to coincide with local government elections.

UKIP today announced their candidate for the upcoming by-election, selecting 62-year-old former primary school teacher Richard Elvin to contest the seat.


Mr Elvin, from Hetton-le-Hole, said: “I am delighted to be selected. To have the chance to fight to represent the people of South Shields is an honour.

“Unlike previous politicians who were parachuted in to a safe seat in order to get into cabinet, my focus and drive is to serve the local area”.

The news came as Labour launched their local election campaign in the North East with Jack Dromey MP, Shadow Communities and Local Government Minister, visiting key target councils in North Tyneside and Northumberland.