The multi-million bestselling author

NORTH EAST HEROES

Meet a selection of inspirational North Easteners representing the unique spirit and heart of the North East.

Find out more about the individuals featured in LJ Ross’ North East Heroes exhibition.

North East Heroes, The Biscuit Factory, 17 May – 16 June

Photographer: Donna-Lisa Healy

 

Denise Curran

Retail Manager, Wallington

Denise Curran is the Retail Manager at Wallington  – a National Trust estate with a historic house set in rolling hills, extensive woodlands and a beautiful walled garden. Denise’s work contributes to the preservation of this precious place for everyone, for ever.

Denise was born in the small village of Burnopfield, her family having lived in the area for over 400 years. She now lives by the coast with her two teenage children.

With a career dedicated to retail, Denise worked for Fenwicks for over 30 years. Finding herself faced with redundancy, Denise demonstrated the resilient spirit of the North East people – picking herself up and securing the Retail Manager role at Wallington. “At the time I was at a loss at what to do,” she reflects. “But I’m passionate about history and to merge my two passions together – shopping and history – seemed like a good idea and I’ve never looked back.” 

Today Denise manages two shops on the Wallington estate. “We stock all manner of gifts, plants and some gorgeous products from local suppliers,” she explains.The thing I love most is our visitors. For me, knowing their purchases help to keep our property alive for future generations is just amazing.”

And it’s the people that she loves most about the North East. “I think we have good ‘crack’ and a brilliant sense of humour! I’m often told by our visitors that the North East people are some of the most warm and loving.” 

We’d like to thank Denise for championing local businesses, and for her work that contributes to the preservation of the North East’s rich history. Thank you for being a North East Hero Denise!


Find out more about how you can support Wallington.


Photographer: Donna-Lisa Healy

Gemma Wilson

The Care Coach

Gemma Wilson runs her own business, The Care Coach, where she works with care homes in the North East to achieve better quality care for their residents. 

Born and bred in the North East, Gemma says she can’t imagine living anywhere else. “God, I love the North East. I find it such a warm place (metaphorically, certainly not literally!) to bring up a family – the people are open and friendly with a fighting spirit – if there is a cause to be supported the community just comes together and gets it done.”

Gemma worked for various care home companies at senior management level before establishing The Care Coach. Today she works collaboratively with a select few care home owners – developing projects that contribute to better quality care for residents with dementia, learning disability and mental health needs.

Reflecting upon her work Gemma says that the pandemic years were particularly tough. “We lost so many of our residents to COVID. It was the most heartbreaking and testing time of my life and career. The stresses and worries of work and COVID affected everyone and continues to do so even today, 3 years later.”

Gemma can not speak highly enough of those who work in social care. “They are just so determined, loving and caring. They put our vulnerable residents before everything else – that kind of selflessness is worth celebrating.” 

We feel Gemma deserves celebrating for everything she does to help improve the lives of care home residents too. Thank you for being a North East Hero Gemma!


Photographer: Donna-Lisa Healy

 

Robson Green

Actor and Presenter

Born in Hexham, Northumberland, Robson was raised in a small mining village in North Tyneside where both his Dad and Grandad were miners. It was at Dudley primary school that he made his acting debut playing the lead in Joseph and the Amazing Techicolour Dreamcoat.

A fixture on television for over four decades, today Robson is one of Britain’s most recognised actors. Beginning with a role in Casualty back in the 1980’s, Robson has worked across may hit shows including the popular mystery series Grantchester.

Robson attributes his success to a local charity which develops young people’s creative potential. “I owe my career and continuing journey within the arts to the  Live Theatre Youth Theatre,” he says. 

A passionate ambassador for his beloved North East, Robson hosts many factual TV shows celebrating and promoting this homeland – his  Weekend Escapes series highlighting some of the regions fabulous hidden gems.

Robson says he is extremely proud to call the North East his home. “The region is a place of enduring beauty, rich history, and warm hospitality. Its people, culture and heritage make it a truly special place and its stunning landscapes, rugged coastline, charming places and picturesque locations offer endless opportunities for exploration and discovery.”

Robson believes one of the region’s greatest assets is its people. “They are warm, friendly and resilient individuals who embody a strong sense of community spirit,” he says. “The people of the North East never fail to make you feel welcome.”

And he feels no discussion of the North East would be complete without mentioning the food. “With delectable savoury stotties, pease pudding and Greggs pasties, the region’s culinary delights never fail to satisfy!”

We’d like to acknowledge this local hero for everything he does to shine a light on the North East. Thanks Robson!


Robson’s latest show takes him a little further from his front door… catch Robson Green’s Amazon Adventure  from 9pm on 21st May. Channel 5.

Find out more about how you can get involved with the Live Theatre’s Youth Theatre HERE


Photographer: Donna-Lisa Healy

Pauline Martin

South Tyneside Libraries

Pauline Martin is a Librarian working for South Tyneside Council. She organises events and reading groups which help to ensure library services are available to all.  

A Northerner through and through, Pauline lives in South Tyneside where she was born and raised. “I love the area… the coastline and beautiful beaches, the culture and the general feeling of welcome that the borough and the whole of the North East has” she says, adding: “I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”

After studying at Newcastle University, Pauline joined South Tyneside Council where she has worked as a Librarian for over 20 years. Libraries are important hubs in our local communities – providing information, education, entertainment and inspiration to all.

“I love my job – our libraries have a real buzz about them and I  really enjoy organising reading groups and hosting events. Our Central Library and state of the art cultural venue – The Word – is situated in the heart of South Shields, and is brimming with exciting experiences, activities and facilities for people of all ages to enjoy.”

It’s the people that Pauline loves most about the North East “We have all sections of the community coming through our doors and that’s what makes the job worthwhile. Many of our users reflect the warmth, kindness, and strength of spirit that the people of the region are famous for.”

Pauline is a North East Hero for her ongoing dedication to ensuring libraries are welcoming and accessible to everyone. Thank you Pauline!


Photographer: Donna-Lisa Healy

Millie Stanford

Co-founder, Northern Soul Kitchen

Millie Stanford is one of the founders of Northern Soul Kitchen, a pay-as-you-feel cafe in Berwick that uses food that would otherwise go to landfill to make nutritious and delicious meals.

Feeling lucky to live in Northumberland, Millie says the beauty of the area is like nowhere else. “The wildness around us is echoed in the people. There are so many interesting characters doing interesting things – people are really passionate about what they do here,” she adds.

Northern Soul Kitchen was born out of Millie’s love for her  hometown of Berwick. “For everything good about it, we could see that there were also some issues affecting people locally – namely food waste and food poverty,” she says. 

The project works with supermarkets and local businesses to save food from going to waste. They turn this food into meals that people can then buy in their café on a pay as you feel basis. Any money spent helps to support the project so they can continue offering their services to more people.

We’d like to thank Millie for everything she does to tackle the important issue of food waste, and for the consideration she shows to others living in her community. We are delighted to feature Millie among our North East Heroes.


Find out more about Northern Soul Kitchen


Photographer: Donna-Lisa Healy

Mim Skinner and Nikki Dravers

Co-founders, REfUSE

Mim Skinner and Nikki Dravers are the co-founders of REfUSE, a social enterprise intercepting good food before it becomes waste. 

Mim and Nikki moved to the North East from the South to go to University in 2009. They fell in love with the region, its people and places and never left.

The landscape is just incredible,” Nikki says. “From the breath-taking coastline to the mountains. Where else can you drive from a city to a deserted beach in 20 minutes?.”

It was in response to the climate crisis that they co-founded REfUSE . By working with manufacturers and major supermarkets they intercept thousands of tonnes of perfectly good food which would have been thrown away. They then turn this food into nutritious meals available on a ‘Pay-As-You-Feel’ basis at their cafe in Chester-le-Street.

Mim and Nikki are thankful to the North East people who have helped, and continue to help, make the project such a success. “Our project is run by 190 volunteers who give up their free time, sharing skills and experience to make it all happen,” Mim says. “Shy bairns get nowt.” Nikki adds. People really want to help and sometimes you just have to ask!”

We’d like to thank this dynamic duo for their entrepreneurial efforts to address climate change whilst simultaneously supporting their local community – they are true North East Heroes!


Find out more about how you can support REfUSE


Photographer: Donna-Lisa Healy

 

Kathryn Tickell OBE

Folk Musician

Kathryn Tickell is a renowned folk musician best known for her work with the Northumbrian smallpipes and fiddle. A composer, performer, broadcaster and recording artist, her work is deeply rooted in the landscape and people of Northumbria. Kathryn’s passion for celebrating the identity of the North East shines through in her work and philanthropic initiatives. 

Brought up in rural Northumberland surrounded by the tunes and ballads of shepherd musicians, Kathryn’s Dad was originally from County Durham, and her Mum’s family from North Tynedale and Redesdale.

“The North East is an amazing place to live,” Kathryn says.”So full of life, colour, character and tradition, and we have an incredible track record for creativity and invention. I love the humour, the different accents, the pride in where we come from, the history, the landscape, all sorts of things!.”

As a player of the Northumbrian small-pipes, the traditional instrument of the North East, Kathryn says she is constantly reminded of the depth of the regions culture of tunes, songs and stories. “For me the music, the people and the places are inextricably linked,” she adds.

Born out of her love of the region Kathryn founded Magnetic North East a project which celebrates and promotes the identity of the North East through its music, arts, culture and heritage.

And Kathryn’s passion for music led her to establish the Young Musicians Fund – a fundraising initiative aiming to give local young people musical opportunities and experiences they might not otherwise have. “Playing music can become your hobby, your therapy, a way of bringing joy to others, and a way of regulating your emotions,” she says. “It strengthens memory, brings people together… and for some it ends up being a career!.”

Kathryn is a fantastic ambassador for the North East. We are grateful for her outstanding contribution to music, and for everything she does to champion the cultural identity of the region.  Thank you for being a North East Hero Kathryn!


Find out more about you can get involved with Magnetic North East and support the Young Musicians Fund.


Photographer: Donna-Lisa Healy

 

Karen Verrill

Centre Lead, Maggie's Newcastle

A qualified nurse, Karen Verrill has dedicated her life to helping others – both in her working life and through volunteering. She is currently Centre Lead at Maggie’s Newcastle, a charity supporting people affected by cancer, and in her ‘spare time’  fundraises to help those living with the condition. 

Born in Newcastle Karen is very proud of her working class roots.  Her grandparents worked on the shipyards and railways, and her Dad in heavy manual labour.  With fond memories of days on the beach and a love of the sea, Karen moved to the coast over 40 years ago. “I really wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” she says.

Karen has worked as a specialist in cancer care for the past 25 years. On top of her full-time roles, she has established innovative peer support groups for those living with cancer, and has raised thousands for cancer charities through fundraising events including trekking the Great Wall of China, and fashion shows featuring models with a cancer diagnosis.

Karen’s main focus is Maggie’s Newcastle where she has been Centre Lead since 2013.  In a thoughtfully designed non-clinical space, the charity specialises in providing free support to anyone with cancer and their families and friends.

Karen said: “A day in my life includes a mixture of drop-ins and programme activities, including support groups and courses. We hear on a daily basis stories of illness, grief and sometimes despair and our job is to try and support people to live as well as they can whilst going through what is often the most difficult period of their lives. The best days are when we can turn tears to laughter”.

In recognition of her commitment to providing the best possible care to people with cancer, and her fantastic fundraising efforts, we are delighted to include Karen amongst our North East Heroes. Thank you for everything you do Karen!


Find out how you can support Maggie’s Newcastle


Photographer: Donna-Lisa Healy

Jennifer Horton

Owner, The Corbridge Larder

Jennifer Horton is the owner of The Corbridge Larder , a food hall and deli stocking quality locally sourced products in Northumberland. A foodie heaven, the  Larder is passionate about supporting its local community. 

Born in Scotland Jennifer moved to the North East over twenty-five years ago. Whilst she thought she would eventually move back, she fell in love with region and put down her roots.

“I love the sea, and the coastline of the North East is just breathtaking!,” she says.”I love the people… they are warm-hearted with a a wry sense of humour, but they do not suffer fools! When needed, they will protect what is dear to them and will get through ordeals by pulling together and getting on with it.” 

Jennifer and her husband bought the Larder when it was was run down and past its best. Today it’s a bustling shop and cafe that’s committed to championing local suppliers and caring about its customers.

This was particularly evident during the Covid pandemic, when Jennifers team pulled together to stay open. “We were a voice at the end of a phone, and a friendly face for those living alone,” she says. “We sourced products and delivered shopping to those that couldn’t get out and, thanks to a generous donor, we were able to distribute groceries to front line workers facing empty supermarket shelves, and to families who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from.”

We’d like thank Jennifer for all she does to champion local businesses, and for supporting her community through tough times – you’re a North East Hero Jennifer!


Find our more about The Corbridge Larder 


Photographer: Donna-Lisa Healy

Jennifer Horton (left) with Marie Harkness and Wendy Kammeier.

Jackie Boardman

Chair of Trustees, The People's Kitchen

Jackie Boardman is a Psychotherapist and Chair of Trustees at The People’s Kitchen , a Newcastle charity providing a safe haven to homeless and vulnerable people. 

Jackie has lived in the North East all of her life, and loves the diversity of the region. “From beautiful countryside to stunning beaches, you’ve got it all on your doorstep.” she says. “And the  range of cuisines and places to eat are diverse too – from markets serving brilliant street food right through to Michelin star restaurants.”

Food is a major part of Jackie’s life. Whilst working in financial services she met many homeless people with little access to nutritious food. Keen to help she joined The People’s Kitchen as a volunteer in 2016, where she helped cook hot meals for those living on the streets. The following year she became their Chair of Trustees.

The People’s Kitchen is about so much more than food. “Its a safe haven, a constant for those whose lives can be chaotic,”  Jackie says. “We also help by providing clothing, toiletries, mobile phones, sleeping bags, friendship, advice and services to improve physical and mental wellbeing.” she adds. It was hearing their service users stories that inspired Jackie to retrain as a psychotherapist.

Jackie attributes the success of the charity to the warmth and kindness of the North East people. “The People’s Kitchen is run entirely by volunteers with over 300 people giving up their time to help others having a really hard time,” she says. “There is also the people and organisations who donate funds, goods, and time to enables us to open 365 days a year. You see kindness to strangers every day.” she adds.

We’d like to acknowledge Jackie’s heroic efforts to help make life a little easier for those living on the streets – we are incredibly grateful for all you do Jackie!


Find out more about how you can support The People’s Kitchen.


Photographer: Donna-Lisa Healy

Pete Harrison

The Victoria Tunnel, The Ouseburn Trust

Pete Harrison volunteers for The Ouseburn Trust, where he leads tours deep into the Ouseburn’s Victoria Tunnel and shares its fascinating stories. 

Built by the Victorians as an underground wagonway to carry coal, the Victoria Tunnel was re-used as an air raid shelter during World War Two. Today a tour of the fully preserved Tunnel is the number one ‘things to do in Newcastle’ on TripAdvisor. Income from ticket sales helps to ensure a sustainable future for the Ouseburn Valley,

A Geordie through and throughPete started volunteering for the Tunnel in 2017, having thoroughly enjoyed his experiences as a paying visitor. He has now led over 2,500 tours!

“My favourite part of leading tours is telling the story of Geordie engineering, construction and innovation,” Pete says. “It makes me smile knowing that everyone visiting the Victoria Tunnel has had a good time and hopefully discovered something new as well”.

We’d like to acknowledge Pete for keeping the fascinating stories and rich history of the North East alive, whilst helping to preserve the Tunnel for future generations to experience.  We think you are a North East Hero Pete!


Find out more about The Victoria Tunnel 


Photographer: Donna-Lisa Healy

Russ Greig

The Miners Lamp Cafe & Community Hub

Russ Greig runs the Miners Lamp Community Hub and Cafe in Prudhoe with the driving ethos of community support and welfare – many of the Hub’s activities and events being aimed at improving the lives of others.

With ancestors hailing from Cumbria and County Durham, Russ was born into a family of hard-working miners and farmers. Originally from Wylam in the Tyne Valley he now enjoys living in Prudhoe. “I love how I can walk my dogs in ancient woodland or along the river, but also jump on my motorbike and be within a short drive of some fantastic moorland, beaches and countryside,” Russ says.

On leaving school Russ spent 8 years studying part-time for a degree, taking on a number of jobs before becoming the trade union representative at Northern Rock – campaigning to save the bank to avoid the impacts of its collapse. He went on to work for a teacher’s union but the role started to take its toll on his health.

Changing direction Russ joined a small group to tackle the run-down Eastwoods Park – tidying the gardens and transforming the bowling pavilion from an eyesore into a successful café and community space which opened in 2019.  “I was lucky enough to get stuck in and do work on the building myself,” he says. “It provided me with a focus and helped my mental health.”

 With funding in place to enable Russ to work full-time, during the pandemic the Hub intercepted over 35 tonnes of food enroute to landfill, redistributing it on a pay-as-you-feel basis. Russ and a small team of volunteers also cooked and distributed 150 meals per week to the elderly and vulnerable.

“We’ve continued to support our community through the cost of living crisis,” Russ says. “Offering support with energy bills, a weekly free lunch club and activities for the local children. We’re planning improvements to make the Hub accessible to all, and we’re currently crowdfunding to employ a specialised youth worker to support the increasing numbers of children  struggling with their mental health”.

We’d like to thank Russ for everything he’s done, and continues to do, to help and support others through tough times. You are a true North East Hero Russ!


Find out more about the Hub’s project to support young people’s mental health CLICK HERE 


Photography by Donna-Lisa Healy

 

 

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