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At our March meeting, we were delighted to welcome three speakers, each giving a presentation vital to the growth and economy of Berwick-upon-Tweed. It was interesting to contrast the, perhaps, more prosperous tourists that we welcome into our area with the needs of the homeless and disadvantaged in our community and in particular the impact on future life chances for the children in these groups.

Jackie Brothwood told us that Engage-Ed is an alternative, unregistered school hub, run as a private business, in partnership with other Berwick schools. It provides opportunities for those disadvantaged pupils who are unable to benefit from mainstream education to gain formal qualifications through a non-formal learning approach and to be able to participate in society as equal citizens. They may have been partially or wholly excluded from mainstream education or disadvantaged by adverse childhood experiences. They may present as vulnerable, uncommunicative and hostile to an apparently alien society. Statistics demonstrated the impact this situation would have on their adult life outcomes, even leading to criminality.

Engage-Ed currently has 20 mostly male students in the 12 – 16 years age group. It offers 18 hours of specialist schooling over a 3-day week. It provides all students with a flexible and innovative education programme tailored to meet their individual learning needs and styles. It offers a nurturing environment, albeit with strict boundaries. It ensures that each pupil has an education based on the National Curriculum with a foundation of Maths and English which will enable them to return to full-time education and have better future employment opportunities. Students have participated in community schemes where this is appropriate. Jackie’s passion stems from her own experiences of education and employment. She gave examples of two of their successes – one pupil going on to study music and another achieving 2 A levels.

Neil Carney provided us with statistics showing the important contribution visitors made to the
local economy. In 2019 Berwick received £56 million from 500,000 visitors, 100,000 of them staying for 3 – 4 nights accounting for £40 million spent. Berwick is the 4th most visited place in Northumberland and research showed that they visit for culture, history and landscape.

This provided the background to the work of Visit Northumberland, its priorities being to provide leadership and engage with all agencies in the tourism field. We saw the significance of having visitors stay for longer periods and to this end we must have a ‘product’ to sell and good publicity structures to reach a wider audience using website and the media as well as access to a good visitor information venue in every place.

This year Visit Northumberland is promoting tourism on the theme of Places compared to previous campaigns which had promoted activities. It is important to have a feature of the town that can be a visitor draw and with that in mind the concept of a ‘Living Barracks’ featuring history and culture as well as entertainment and visitor facilities was seen as an asset. Neil, like many of us, is not a native Northumbrian but came to this area and ‘was bewitched by its magic’ and wants to share its assets in a way that will also benefit the community.

Michael Farr’s statistics demonstrated the fact that homelessness is a national as well as a local issue. In Northumberland alone in 2023, 12,500 were seeking accommodation. We were reminded of the impact of homelessness on health and the effect on other life opportunities, particularly for those 140,000 children nationally who are living in temporary accommodation.

Bernicia has welcomed Northumberland County Council’s backing and financial input, together with other partners, to enable Bernicia to build 58 affordable new homes in Berwick. Bernicia’s £13m scheme will see a mix of 2 and 3 bed bungalows and 2, 3 and 4 bed family homes built on the site of the former Seton Hall at Tweedmouth. The houses, with affordable rents or shared ownership, are aimed at local people in all age groups.

Michael addressed the challenges facing the housing crisis including population increase, growth of second homes and Airbnb, the Right to Buy and the new Regulations meaning that many private single property owners were dropping out of the lettings market. Looking to the future there must be a long term Housing plan with reforms of the regulations affecting this sector. The ultimate aim is to work to achieve the balance between want and need.

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