FROM CRISIS TO CRISIS - ANOTHER TURBULENT YEAR AT
following article was published by Chronicle Live on
31st December 2017
Rocketing violence, 'easy' access to drugs and a
string of suicides
It is the prison dubbed a “powder keg” following
exploding levels of violence and widespread drug
HMP Northumberland has been embroiled in a number of
high profile scandals this year following a series
of dangerous incidents.
A BBC Panorama documentary uncovered scenes of
disarray inside the troubled jail, which sparked
major safety concerns for staff – and a damning
report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons
underlined how violent incidents had more than
doubled since the last inspection in 2014.
Four years ago, the 1,300-capacity Acklington jail
was placed in the hands of private company Sodexo.
Nick Leader, who became the new director at the
prison in May this year, and the third man to run
the jail since the firm took over, said staff are
continuing to work hard to tackle drugs and
But Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said the past 12 months
have shown “just how chaotic things are” at the jail
under the company’s leadership.
“I have seen a continual flood of concerns from
families, staff and even inmates about operations at
the prison,” he said.
“I reiterate the calls I have consistently made over
the past four years since the prison was privatised.
“Prisons should not be run for private profit and we
need to return this facility to public control or we
will see little improvement.”
The report into HMP Northumberland, published last
month, found 58% of prisoners had felt unsafe at
Almost two thirds of inmates said that it was “easy
or very easy” to get hold of drugs, while 21% said
they had picked up a drug habit in the jail.
Inspectors also raised concerns that few of the
shortcomings identified by Prisons and Probation
Ombudsman investigations into six suicides had been
The report came nine months after an explosive
behind-the-scenes investigation by the BBC revealed
the chaos guards face at the category C jail.
Harrowing footage showed one officer having
convulsions on the floor after accidentally inhaling
spice, a cheap and stronger synthetic alternative to
And staff found door alarms did not go off in one
block and a hole in an internal security fence,
which was believed to have been used by inmates to
collect contraband thrown over the perimeter fence.
Druridge Bay councillor Scott Dickinson said: “In
the early days they asked for time but this has gone
on and on.
“The last report was really concerning which said it
was really easy to get drugs on the inside.
“On top of that, prison is supposed to be a place
for rehabilitation but they are saying they are
developing drug habits. It is having a knock on
effect on the local community.”
Mr Leader said since taking over the prison, Sodexo
has built positive links with the community,
including businesses, authorities, agencies and
“Through those relationships we have been able to
provide meaningful rehabilitation activities for
prisoners,” he added.
“We have good relationships with trade unions and
now Sodexo is responsible for Northumbria CRC, our
staff are in a unique position to make a positive
impact on offenders’ lives when they’re in the
prison and when they’re being supervised in the
“We continue to work hard to tackle drugs and
violence, which are a challenge across the whole
prison estate, and have strengthened our violence
reduction team, introduced more drug testing and
secured funding for additional CCTV equipment.”
Problems at the
local prison seemed to dominate our parish news in
2017. If you are interested in reading about
the many incidents (and reactions) at HMP
Northumberland during the year, please press on the
NORTHUMBERLAND GEM IS A SUPER PLACE TO MILL
The following article was published in the
Sunday Post on 6th December
WITHIN a few minutes we can totally see why Mill
House in Guyzance, Northumberland was a silver
medal winner in the local tourism awards.
And why the B&B is one of literally a handful
shortlisted as the best in the whole of the
north of England.
It’s a gem, the sort of home from home that
instantly makes you wish your abode really was
And that owner Karen was your neighbour (when
snow trapped everybody in a few years ago she
dragged supplies on a sledge up hills to
The house wins us over just as much as this
delightful one-woman force of nature.
It’s a 16th Century cottage, formerly part of
the Guyzance Hall Estate and home to mill staff.
We read about one of the workers, Fred – he also
served in the local Dad’s Army during the Second
World War – in a personal testament Karen points
out in the gorgeous sitting room, original beams
catching the eye.
It’s the cosiest of country hideaways and every
single thing has been done to the highest
possible standard. Some, we learn, by Karen
herself who donned dust masks to sand
floorboards and hunted for period doors.
A former teacher, we wonder if there’s anything
she can’t do. Will breakfast disappoint perhaps?
Don’t be silly. It’s simply sensational. All
cooked on an Aga and with attention to detail
you’d struggle to beat in the most high-end
Everything is perfection, from the porridge with
honey and coconut milk to the full English, with
the tomatoes marinated overnight. If there’s a
better start to the day anywhere, I haven’t
Mill House is the sort of place you could just
settle down with a book in the garden to watch
the deer on the hillside.
But it’s just a few miles from Amble, which hugs
the estuary of the Coquet, the river that
actually runs right by the B&B.
Seafood has always played a massive part in the
pretty little town and one of the most recent
additions is the Harbour Village with its chic
huts and fab foodie choices.
It’s a lovely place for a seaside stroll and
A short drive away, on the other side of the A1,
Run by the National Trust, it was the
extraordinary Victorian home of Lord and Lady
Armstrong. It stands in 1000 acres of grounds –
brilliant for a peaceful walk – that look as
though they have been like that for hundreds of
The reality is that the landscape was designed,
like the house, to the taste of the inventor,
engineer and businessman who was a massive
figure far beyond the north east.
Seven million trees were planted, lakes created
and sweeping drives laid out (we take the
six-mile Estate Drive as we leave).
Cragside was the first house in the world lit by
hydroelectricity and standing in the very room
where people marvelled at this wonder, you can
feel the sense of history wash over you.
Thankfully, we weren’t in a hurry. This isn’t
really a pop in and have a quick peek place,
there’s so much fresh fascination round every
corner that hours passed in a flash.
And when it comes to there always being
something new to discover, there’s Alnwick and
Bamburgh Castles, two of Northumberland’s
greatest and grandest attractions.
Alnwick Castle, right in the centre of the
glorious market town, is famous for both being
the real home of the Percy family and the
fictional one of Harry Potter, as Hogwarts in
the smash-hit films. We learn some of the
behind-the-scenes stories by joining one of the
fun location tours – a Downton Abbey Christmas
special was also shot here – before exploring
the magnificent house.
And surely there can’t be a castle that
dominates the coast more spectacularly than
It’s gloriously intact and we discover that we
have our old friend Armstrong to thank for that.
It was his deep pockets that brought it back to
life after he bought it in the late 19th
It took a decade and more than a million pounds
– a massive fortune back then – to reverse
hundreds of years of neglect.
We can’t help but feel that if he needed some
know-how in bringing a building to brilliant new
life, Karen would have been just the lady to
Mill House has single occupancy from £80,
doubles from £90, bed and breakfast.
APPROVAL FOR CLOSURE OF ACKLINGTON SCHOOL
The following article was published by
the Northumberland Gazette
on 7th November
The closure of Acklington CofE First School has been
signed off by councillors and the final bell is set
to ring in the summer.
In line with the recommendation at last week’s
meeting of the county council’s family and
children’s scrutiny committee, the decision-making
cabinet voted on Tuesday that the school should stay
open until the end of the academic year (August 31,
This is subject to final approval as it is different
to what was originally proposed by the governing
body of the James Calvert Spence College (JCSC)
federation, which was to close at the end of next
The closure is based on the falling pupil numbers,
which puts the school in a precarious financial
situation as well as raising concerns about whether
a broad curriculum can be provided to pupils
alongside the impact on their emotional and social
Andy Johnson, the council’s interim director of
children’s services, and Neil Rodgers, JCSC’s
executive headteacher, set out the rationale behind
the closure, which Mr Rodgers described as ‘the only
Parent Steven Bush repeated the concerns he raised
at last week’s meeting, saying: “We believe the
school hasn’t taken the necessary time or actions to
investigate alternative options to closure.”
Local ward member, Coun Jeff Watson, added: “It’s
very sad when a school like Acklington, that has
been around for so many years, is facing a situation
“Many of the parents feel let down by the system.
Twenty-one months ago (when Acklington joined the
JCSC hard federation), promises were made and they
felt they weren’t kept.”
He added: “I can’t argue against the closure, but we
should keep the school open until the summer term. I
know there will be a cost and I know that’s
difficult, but in this case, I think we should bear
When the governors launched a consultation on
closure in May, there were 13 pupils on roll. Now
there are just eight, although it is accepted that
the uncertainty around the school’s future has had
The school is set to run a deficit of £40,000 in
2017/18, while the buildings are in a poor condition
and the mobile classrooms need to be replaced at a
cost of around £170,000.
There are places available for the eight pupils
across the other first and primary schools in the
Part of Acklington’s catchment area would be
incorporated into Broomhill First School’s as the
nearest school (1.3 miles) and part would be
incorporated into that of Warkworth CofE Primary
School as the closest Church of England school
offering primary education (2.9 miles). The council
would guarantee transport to these schools for
was continually in the news throughout 2017 as
staff, parents and community members fought for its
future. If you wish to read more articles
about the school the please
NEW TASTING ROOM FOR NORTHUMBERLAND FARMHOUSE
The following article was published in the
Northumberland Gazette on 13th
A farmhouse brewery, launched in a former milking
parlour less than a year ago, is launching a tasting
room and licensed bar.
On Saturday, Rigg & Furrow farmhouse brewery, based
at Acklington Park Farm near Morpeth, will formally
open the tasting room, launch its new Christmas beer
and mark its first nine months of business with a
Pippa and Theo Howie at the Rigg & Furrow farmhouse
brewery at Acklington.
So far in 2017, Rigg & Furrow has supplied its beer
to more than 100 bars, venues and hotels from
Scotland to Yorkshire, including well-known
Northumberland and Tyneside venues such as The
Office in Morpeth – the CAMRA North East pub of the
Bespoke, branded labels on bottles of beer to mark
special occasions or weddings have proven
particularly popular too.
It’s been 12 months of hard graft for the Howie
family, who are behind the venture, which came about
when Theo, a former music teacher and brewer from
London, married farmer’s daughter Pippa.
If you wish to
read more about this exciting enterprise then please
click on the link below.
TOP AMERICANA ACTS ARE LINED UP TO MAKE A
NORTHUMBERLAND VILLAGE HALL JUMP
The following article was published by Chronicle
Live on 8th August 2017
The second Jumpin' Hot Country Cantina will see fans
of American roots music gathering in Acklington
Just a couple of weeks ago the Jumpin’ Hot Club was
running the outdoor stage at the SummerTyne
Americana festival at Sage Gateshead.
But entertaining thousands at one of the country’s
most prominent music venues is not all they do.
On Saturday (August 12) the musical action moves
north as Acklington Village Hall, in Northumberland
, hosts the Jumpin’ Hot Country Cantina for the
Graham Anderson, who set up the Jumpin’ Hot Club and
sister organisation Northern Roots with colleague
Adam Collerton, describes it as a family-friendly
‘all dayer’ and live music showcase.
“We did it last year and it was one of the
highlights of the year,” said Graham.
“It’s not big but we took over the whole place and
there’s a nice bit of grass outside to sit on. It’s
a very nice place for people to come to.”
The plan, weather permitting, is that the action
will be both outside and inside.
Graham promises “amazing” food and hot drinks and
selected beers and ciders from the Hadrian Border
Brewery – “and loads of space to chill (as well as
the hall if it’s raining).”
He adds an important note regarding the cider and
beer: “We deffo won’t sell out this year.”
Most important of all, though, is a sprightly
musical line-up which would grace any Americana
Amanda Anne Platt of The Honeycutters
The Honeycutters, founded in 2007 by singer-songwriter
Amanda Anne Platt and guitarist Peter James, who is no
longer in the band, are based in North Carolina.
BID FOR 24 NEW HOMES IN ACKLINGTON
Graham positions them “in between the country-pop of
today and the gritty sound of yesterday” and hails “a
country-Americana sound that catches the ears of both
the young and old”.
Mary Jean Lewis, Louisiana-born but Scotland-based niece
of rock and roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis, will be
performing with her group The Low Men.
“A very classy live performer with a dynamic
personality,” notes Graham.
Kentucky Cowtippers, a Geordie/American bluegrass
troupe, also join the line-up with Mush, Newcastle folk
duo Skylark Song and the Sour Mash Trio.
A Songwriters’ Circle will feature Tom Blackwell, Gem
Andrews and Tony Bengtsson.
Meanwhile Graham will spin old 78 records in the bar and
The Lathe Revival, which puts restored vintage recording
equipment to good use, will be out to catch some of the
Saturday’s event runs from 1pm to 11pm and tickets, at
£22.50 each, can be bought at
FESTIVAL OF CIRCUS BRINGS BIG TOPS AND INTERNATIONAL
STARS TO NORTHUMBERLAND
The following article was published by Chronicle Live on
16th June 2017
The festival organised by Let's Circus promises an
action-packed bank holiday and many summer workshops for
If you fancy running away to the circus, you need run no
further than the Northumberland village of Guyzance.
That’s the rather unlikely location for a colourful and
action-packed week-long festival – August 25 to
September 1 – called Circus In A Field!
Or perhaps it’s not so very unlikely.
This will be the third time the summer circus festival
has taken place on a private field in Guyzance, near the
meandering River Coquet.
For Circus In A Field! that field will be transformed
with circus big tops, outdoor rigs and a specially built
The organisers, Newcastle-based Let’s Circus, promise
kids’ summer workshops, intensive training for those
with some circus experience and one big public event on
the August 28 bank holiday.
This ‘festival in a day’ will be open to the public and
feature world class circus performances from midday
Among the performers in the big tops will be The
Hogwallops (presented by Lost In Translation),
specialists in circus skills and physical comedy.
That's the way to do it! Mastering the tightwire
Also out to entertain on the big day will be
international circus performers billed as stylish,
contemporary and award-winning.
Live music, food and a bar will contribute to the
But the festival is also about enthusing youngsters with
summer workshops scheduled for August 26, 27, 29 and 30.
Juggling, tightwire, plate-spinning and hula hoop will
be among the specialist skills on offer.
The sessions are aimed at young people aged eight to 15
and parents can sign them up for all four days or just
one of the sessions.
Organisers Helen Averley and Steve Cousins, of Let’s
Circus, say the training element of the festival offers
a “total immersion in circus”.
Roll up, roll up for a Northumberland circus festival
Student to teacher ratios, they add, are kept low and up
to 40 workshops are offered each day, guaranteeing
diversity and depth.
“It gives you the chance to eat, sleep and live circus
surrounded by others who are all doing the same,” they
Alongside the kids’ summer workshops will be a programme
of high level and focused training for serious circus
An ‘acrobatics intensive’ session, taking place from
August 25-27, will be led by acrobalance stars Forma
Fortis who originated in Germany but are based in
Steve Cousins says: “We’ve been doing circus festivals
and projects internationally for well over a decade now
and created the festival to bring some of the best of
what we’ve seen back home to Northumberland.
The following article was published by the
Northumberland Gazette on 25th May 2017
Plans for a new residential scheme in a Northumberland
village have been submitted to the county council.
On behalf of the applicant, Mr M Clippingdale, George F
White has lodged a full application for 24 new homes in
The proposed site for the new houses, which would
include six three-bedroom, affordable homes, is to the
west of Acklington Village Hall.
Site for proposed housing
According to a planning statement, ‘it is proposed to
develop the site for 24 residential properties each
providing their own garden/amenity areas and parking. An
access road will be provided to serve all of the
properties and will be to an adoptable standard’.
It adds: ‘The intention is to create spacious layout
including a mix of properties, including three and
four-bedroom, large, detached properties, bungalows and
affordable properties. The aim is to provide choice to
the housing market of Acklington and the surrounding
In terms of the affordable homes, the intention is to
provide them for rent in perpetuity ‘to supplement the
four existing affordable homes that are already on site
and which have proved extremely popular and with 100 per
cent occupancy since their completion’.
The four existing affordable homes (two semi-detached
blocks) were approved in 2013 in conjunction with the
conversion of the buildings at Cavil Head Farm into 11
The 18 open-market houses would be comprise two
two-bedroom bungalows, six three-bedroom, detached
houses and 10 four-bedroom detached houses.
20 VILLAGERS CLEARED 65 KILOS OF LITTER!
Litter Picking Villager Chris Sayers
On Saturday 22nd April 2017, twenty public-minded
volunteers from Acklington gathered together to clear
rubbish from the village.
Event organiser, Alison Sharpe said, “Our litter pick is
all about villagers working hard, having fun, and making
Acklington a great village to live in.”
65 Kilos of litter were collected. Most of the
collection was roadside rubbish thrown from cars, and
included food packaging, soft drinks containers and
The largest item collected was a full-sized, double
Well done to everyone. Our community is now a bit