For many years prior to the Millennium Scotswood was a community locked in a state of terminal decline. The loss of thousands of manual jobs in the traditional Tyneside industries had created widespread unemployment and a sense of despair amongst local families. Education standards were poor and disillusioned young people vented their frustration with outbursts of antisocial behaviour culminating in the ‘Scotswood riots’ of the 1990s when the policies of Margaret Thatcher and her Tory Government created widespread unemployment and caused so much damage to our region.
Interventions were tried through City Challenge and more recently Going for Growth but both ended in failure as neither of these initiatives successfully challenged the underlying problem of a sense of disillusionment and despair amongst local people who basically felt marginalised and forgotten about.
But now things are at last beginning to stir. It is encouraging that we have the welcome new houses on the Scotswood Rise development but perhaps more importantly we have the signs of an emerging cultural revolution in our community!
Community Garden and John Marley Centre
The award-winning Scotswood Community Garden has for many years been a beacon of excellence with its focus on promoting the importance of wildlife and biodiversity but things are also beginning to take shape in the nearby John Marley Centre formerly the site of the local secondary school. It is now the home of the world renowned balletLORENT who have made it their base and where they are now providing dance classes for local children and introducing them for the first time to the joys of ballet along with wonderful performances for the benefit of the local primary schools.
Breeze Creatives have also relocated there from the city centre and are investing in improving the cultural landscape of the region and nurturing artists through their range of workshops on the premises. The house of the former caretaker has now become home to the Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust and their first project in the area will be to open up the wonders of the ‘John Marley tower’ to the wider public with its panoramic views across the valley as far as the Angel of the North and the latest addition is the arrival of the Lifelong Learning Project designed to improve the skills and quality of life of those for whom schooling was not the most fulfilling experience.
Over many years it has been the myth that culture is the preserve of the wealthy and those less fortunate have too often been denied its joys. However, I have never believed this to be the case and have so often been frustrated and angered by this cultural snobbery. Culture comes in many forms and should be available to everyone whatever their background and upbringing.
I, therefore, look forward to a further blossoming of this dynamic hive of cultural activity in Scotswood which I am sure will further unlock the creative energy and ideas of so many wonderful people whom I have been privileged to meet and befriend throughout so many difficult years in recent the history of my community.