Meet some real-life heroes in my series of special interviews with people who represent the spirit and heart of the North East.
Jane Rayson is the Deputy Head at Framwellgate School Durham. After realising that many Year 11’s could not attend the prom due to financial difficulties, Jane sent out a tweet asking for prom donations, and the community rallied itself together to find dresses, suits, makeup artists, hair stylists, handbags – you name it!
In this interview, I spoke to Jane about the prom initiative, her North East business recommendations, and more…
Jane, please tell us a bit about you and your connection with the North East.I was born in the North East on a wintry February morning, at 6am in Bensham hospital (which actually no longer exists). I therefore always view myself as a Gateshead girl at heart and feel immensely proud of my north-eastern roots. No matter where I travel, it’s great to return home to the sight of the Angel of the North which always signifies that I’m back where I belong. I’m married to a very understanding husband (The job is definitely not 9-3 and lots of holidays!) and I have a four-year-old daughter, Ruby who keeps me very busy. I like to squeeze in the odd run here and there, mainly as a way to clear my head and focus on switching from complex and often challenging issues to family life. I also love to travel; Italy is one of my favourite places and this year I’ve taken on an Italian GCSE. Teaching others is great fun and very rewarding, teaching yourself a language from scratch (with a demanding job and four-year-old) not so much!
Tell us about your work at Framwellgate School. You’ve recently been accepting donations for your Year 11’s prom. Please tell us about how this started and how it’s going so far!I originally worked at Framwellgate School Durham back at the start of my career (over 20 years ago) as an English teacher and although I moved onto another school for five years, Fram (as it’s affectionately known) was always in my heart, so when an opportunity to return in 2015 arose, I jumped at the chance. Although people say never look back, I’m so pleased I did and took the opportunity to return. My current role is that of Deputy Head and my main focus is pastoral care; there’s never a dull day in pastoral! I’m lucky to lead a fantastic team who all want the very best for our young people. My day-to-day work is very varied and sometimes challenging but we’re all about trying to improve the lives and life chances of our students. It’s this that I love, seeing that we can and do make a difference. I’d always been brought up to carry a burning sense of righteous indignation that we must make a difference to all of those that we can and particularly those who have been treated unfairly or unequally in any way. The prom initiative came about two years ago when I realised the exorbitant prices that our students were paying for their dresses and suits and the fact that some of our young people simply couldn’t afford to do this and therefore were stating sadly that they didn’t want to go to prom. It started with a tweet asking for donations for a few dresses for some students who didn’t have a dress and it just exploded. We were given donations of brand-new designer suits, dresses, shirts, shoes, handbags and jewellery. I was so touched and humbled by the response of our staff and the local community; the items just kept coming. In that first year we also had people volunteering to come into school and do hair and makeup free of charge. Unfortunately, because of Covid, that prom never came to fruition so this year is the first year that any of those suits and dresses get worn. It’s very exciting seeing the students (and sometimes their parents) coming to choose and walk away with an outfit with a big smile on their faces. We’ve also had a great response to this year’s request for hair and makeup volunteers and a lovely gesture of some hopefully free make up samples. We’re always willing to take more though for the future, so if you happen to have a spare suit or dress in your wardrobe…you know where to send it! I’d like to think we’re a school who always thinks we can help in some way; every year at Christmas, for example, we always put together large food hampers for our families that struggle financially at this time. We get huge support in the form of cash and food donations from staff, students, parents and the local community. This has grown year upon year and we hope to make it even bigger this year. This is only made possible by the determination of our staff who collect, pack and deliver the hampers (We send our minibus out into the community to deliver to every single household that has asked for help)
That is absolutely fantastic to hear, I love how the community have rallied together – everyone deserves to dress up and have fun! It’s also great to see how passionate you are about helping others both in your job and as a school! I hope your Year 11s had a wonderful time at this year’s prom!
Id love to know, which three words best describe the North East to you?Community-spirited – I think what our local community does to help others in difficult situations, demonstrates that. Beautiful – our coastlines are just spectacular and hard to equal. Finally, Id say warm and friendly (I know that’s four really, but the last two just go together so well)
It’s often said that the people and landscapes of the North East are full of spirit and heart. What do you love most about the region?The people; the North East accent warms your soul!
Is there one place you always like to visit that you would recommend to others?One of my favourite places in the whole world is Bamburgh. Many of my fond childhood memories are linked to time up there and the fish and chips at Seahouses are unrivalled. I love to spend time at the castle and take long walks along the beach. There’s such a peaceful, calm, serene feel about the place, that it really is one of my happy places.
What about your favourite North East business or shop?Oooh- that’s so hard. I’d have to say most of them revolve around food so I’m probably going to choose a variety in the village where I live (Washington). There’s Vinyl, a lovely little Italian American cafe and restaurant with the kindest owners, Sue and Connor. The Green (coffee shop) with its fabulous hot chocolate and vegan biscuits. The Forge, a beautiful bistro restaurant with a nice range of gins and cocktails! All of these are literally a two-minute stroll from my house. I’m really lucky to have such high-quality establishments on my doorstep; it feels like I’m living in a permanent holiday destination. Now if someone could just open a deli and bakery, I’d be set for life.
They sound like fab recommendations!
What is your favourite North East slang? What does it mean?Well as I’ve gone with a food related theme for the last question, let’s continue that with “I’m clammin” meaning I’m really hungry. I also like it when our students say “He’s geet canny as owt him like Miss” – see if you can work that one out!
Who are your North East heroes?Although these days, I’ve fallen out of love with it a bit, I used to enjoy going to the Newcastle matches. There was nothing better than seeing Bobby Robson on those sidelines gesticulating at the team to get their bloody act together. Every interview I’ve ever seen with him embodies what it means to be a Geordie-warm, funny, down to earth and just a genuinely lovely guy. I’ve loved watching various documentaries touching on the relationship between him and Gazza over the years. He’s certainly one of my many north eastern heroes but I have to give a shout out to all teachers; they really are superhuman and sometimes get such bad press. And my amazing pastoral team. What they deal with day in and day out, particularly in these post-Covid times, makes me so proud. We’re a team in the true sense of the word and are always there to pick each other up when it gets tough.
Teachers are true heroes and your team sound like they are doing a fantastic job.
As a final question, Jane, what makes you smile?My gorgeous little girl, without a doubt. We adopted her just before her first birthday and I never thought a small person could bring such joy to anyone’s life. Everyone loves Ruby; She’s kind, compassionate, caring, curious and so much more. Everything I hope for our students at school. Oh and books…books make me smile.
Me too! Thank you so much for joining me, Jane. If you’d like to support Framwellgate School in their Prom donations, contact Jane on Twitter.
Thank you to Kate Baguley for helping to coordinate this interview.