Special places, special people, special values…with Le Mat in the Northeast of UK

First of all thanks to Melanie, Linda, Lynn and Matthew and all the others helping us to understand a lot of interesting social enterprise practices and to discover a beautiful landscape and really special people.

It was a wonderful trip, a real Le Mat accoglienza!

They call it Northumbria…… The collieries that once dominated many parts of North East England have now gone and the pit heaps have been reclaimed and naturalised into the landscape, but there is no doubting the important influence that coal mining has had upon shaping the modern character of North East England….

But why traveling to the Northeast of UK?

We met Keith Richardson during an Equal mainstreaming project on social franchising that now turned into a European Association.

Keith, together with many other people pointed out the innovative proposal to replicate good practices in social entrepreneurship and studying the European good practices they discovered Le Mat.  And so we started to co-operate with the Northeast of UK.

In 2010 Le Mat organized a tour through APULIA and we started a dialogue with Linda Rutter (In Good Shape CIC ), Melanie Todd (The Studio @ CIC), Lynn Summerside (BActivenBFit CIC ) and Matthew Burge (Burge Surtees Associates Ltd ). Wonderful people and we started to work together on communication and story telling….

In the meantime the Sardinian members of Le Mat the consortium Andalas de Amistade searched for a European partner and so we organized a trip to discover the many social enterprise practices in the Northeast of UK.

The first day we met a marvellous person…Frederik a traditional Boat Builder!

A wonderful example of how normal people throughout their passion and ability are real social entrepreneurs! And so our discussion starts: who are the social entrepreneurs, where are the differences in between the social enterprise sector in UK and the Third Sector in Italy. We learned a lot of things and our brains started working…

The second day we all moved from South Shields -  where we slept in a beautiful Hotel on the river Tyne, exactly where the river meets the North Sea – to Newcastle, precisely to the Ouseburn Valley , a long industrial story but today the creative heart of Newcastle. A long regeneration process: the challenge of maintaining the area’s unique ‘quirky’ character and its rich heritage assets, at the same time as attracting modern and innovative development, has not been easy. To help steer this process, the Ouseburn Trust , in partnership with the City Council’s Ouseburn Regeneration Team, published the Lower Ouseburn Regeneration Strategy in 2003. This strategy laid out the following vision for the area:

‘By 2010 the Lower Ouseburn Valley will be a thriving, sustainable, urban village in a unique riverside location within the City of Newcastle. The best heritage features of the area will have been preserved and enhanced within a vibrant townscape and an attractive landscape that will reconnect people with the diverse natural environment. A wide range of businesses especially those related to creative, innovative, multi-media and cultural activities will be prospering in the area. The Valley will also be home to a stable mixed residential community. A wide variety of services and leisure opportunities will be available for residents, employees and visitors to the area…’

A process which needed social entrepreneurs and we met some of them, really extraordinary…

Ouseburn Farm was our first meeting. The farm is steadily growing…vegetables, animals, really in the middle of the town. A lot of volunteers working on it. We discovered recycled glasshouses…never seen before!

Susan Tron received us in Stepney Bank Stables, Newcastle’s Inner City Community Horse Project

The aim of the Project is to use the horse as a tool, to motivate, educate and pass on key social skills. Despite being a strange concept this has proven an effective, long term method of reaching disadvantaged and hard to reach groups. Through doing this we have enabled many individuals from deprived backgrounds to develop new interests and gain self-esteem to a level where they can seek further training or employment. In the middle of the town! Phantastic!!!!

Also the Star & Shadow Cinema is part of the Ousborn Open Studios and it was amazing to see and to listen to their story. A group of passionate film volunteers set it up and keep it going on….and it’s not only a CINEMA…

Part of the Ouseborn Open Studios is also NORTHERN PRINT , a real service place for artists and those that want to become artists. It’s certainly not only printing….

In the afternoon after gift sharing (the Sardinians brought fantastic things with them!) and the healthy packed lunch prepared with love by Melanie…we met the wonderful people of

Recyke y’bike, Newcastle’s multi award winning second-hand bicycle & recycling hub. Look to there video on youtube.   They really are passionate bikers and recyclers and may bikes are going to Africa

Last but not least our guests showed us the Amber Films & Side Gallery in the old town of Newcastle. They have a long and exiting story. The work is rooted in social documentary, built around long term engagements with working class and marginalized communities in the North of England. Through the gallery and cinema programs and at festivals and screenings, the group makes connections with inspirational production in the wider world. Murray Martin was a founder member of Amber and the prime architect of the vision…look here

The evening dinner, all together – also Keith joined us – in North Shields, the other side of the Tyne was good and offered by our guests!

The day after – Sunday – we discovered othe social enterprises and we really couldn’t understand – with our Italian experience – why they are called social enterprises. Ok, they are not for profit, working to qualify the cultural services…but where do they take the money from? Many questions and discussions are going on. Nevertheless let’s tell some more details.

First of all the BALTIC MILL Housed in a landmark industrial building (a MILL) on the south bank of the River Tyne, BALTIC is a major international centre for contemporary art. BALTIC has no permanent collection, providing instead an ever-changing calendar of exhibitions and events that give a unique and compelling insight into contemporary artistic practice. BALTIC was founded with funding from The National Lottery through Arts Council England, Gateshead Council, Northern Rock Foundation, the European Regional Development Fund and One NorthEast, and receives continued support from Arts Council England and Gateshead Council. But one upon the time it was a big MILL and it stopped to work it would have been to expensive to destroy it…so they decided to change the destination…Our guide was unique…he showed us all the secrets of this incredible building….and he answered our questions about funding…we really were very curious!

The next “social enterprise” we visited was the Gateshead Sage Concert Venue .The centre occupies a “curvy glass and stainless steel” building designed by Foster and Partners. Here you can take some virtual tours and read something more about the story and the money they spent on it. People in Newcastle are happy to have a music city like this because it isn’t used only to listen to concerts but can be used also to do music…maybe that’s the reason why it is a social enterprise? “Music’s for you.  Music’s for everyone. Whether you’re 2 or 92; whether you’re a beginner or have years of experience; whether you’d like to join a choir, play in a folk ensemble, brush up on your theory, try out improvisation or learn the steel pans; whether you want pursue music professionally or as a creative social pastime – we’re sure you’ll find an opportunity to join in, enjoy and learn with us.” Maybe it’s really not only a big music palace

But than – after our healthy packed lunch organisid with love by Melanie -  we went to visit West End Millin Centre, a place where we as Italian social entrepreneurs felt at home…The Millin Centre is a rapidly expanding community centre and the hub of the Black Minority Ethnic community in Benwell. All communities are welcome regardless of faith, gender, age or race. Millin is a Punjabi/Hindi/Urdu/Bengali term, which means to come together as people. The North Benwell Black Residents Support Group (NBBRSG) was set up in 1995 by a group of local residents to improve, strengthen and promote the needs of the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities living in the Benwell area, by providing educational programmes for men, women and children, while valuing their cultural diversity and recognizing local circumstances. When we arrived there was a small Christmas market going on and two beautiful women explained us the work, the difficulties the prides. We had thousands of questions….

After a visit to Durham in the evening we had a wonderful Curry Dinner in South Shields offered by the Sardinian people and a lot of planning work for our future Le Mat development….

On Monday morning an important appointment with PLACES FOR PEOPLE in South Shields. Unbelievable, PLACES FOR PEOPLE are one of the largest property management, development and regeneration companies in the UK. They own or manage 62,034 homes and have assets of more than £3billion. Building homes is just the start. New schools, shops, leisure facilities, childcare, job opportunities and training for support services make a place thrive. And they don’t stop there: they manage places so they’re sustainable in the future….They explained their work and we visited some of their houses and inclusion projects and we explained our Le Mat work and they really were interested…Maybe we will meet again…

And than we went to Sunderland to visit the National Glass Centre http://www.nationalglasscentre.com . We could participate in a glass blowing class and it was really interesting. Nice place, a pity not to find nothing in another language but we found a lot of gifts to take to Italy…

Last but certainly not least Lynn took us to her B’ Active ‘N’ B’ Fit. “We deliver therapeutic Exercise, Movement & Dance, holistic therapies & health improvement to all ages and social backgrounds. Sit ‘N’ B’ Fit (as seen on TVs The Secret Millionaire) which tailors exercise to the over 50s, and more frail older adults including people with specialist health needs. Our developmental arm B’ Young ‘N’ B’ Fit that provides specialist programmes of Exercise, Movement & Dance to help combat the effects of inactivity in children such as obesity.We strive to ensure that our classes are non-intimidating and welcoming to ensure full inclusion…”

Lynn is a wonderful person and we call can imagine that together with her it really becomes easy to be active…

There would have been many more stories to tell…it was  – as I already said – a superb travel.

Thank you to all the people we met, to all those that sponsored our well being in the North East but a special thank you to Melanie and Matthew who developed a high professional tour, a real Le Mat tour!

Special places, special people, special values you can find travelling with LE MAT NORTH UMBRIA!


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