Working together is key and this is to be seen in practice in the council wards of North and South Jesmond in Newcastle. Tanya Pretswell and Charlie Gray are the two Labour candidates for the coming May elections and they see this as a huge priority. They have both been particularly heartened by examples of students working locally during the pandemic, volunteering with food banks and raising funds for charities, and they are very keen to develop this and support students becoming further involved in their local community.
Both Tanya and Charlie are clearly highly motivated about politics and making a positive difference. I asked them what made them passionate about politics.
Tanya, a “Geordie by marriage”, and chair of her UNISON branch, who has lived in Jesmond for over 30 years said:
“Seeing people struggling. Being an NHS employee I have witnessed ten long years of Tory austerity and the impact this has had on staff and their families, this then maps out into our communities. The Tories are no friends to the North East, to public services nor to working class people generally and I thought rather than just whinging about it I should try and change it. Deeds not words!”
Charlie, who has lived in Newcastle all his life and is now studying Forensic Science at Northumbria University said:
“Growing up both my parents worked in education and seeing the impact that cuts from the coalition government, I felt a real sense of injustice over the heartless policies…such as the bedroom tax. This government targeted some of the most vulnerable in our society and those that were already struggling. Something I will always remember is my Mum saying to me that ‘you should always judge a society on how it treats its most vulnerable citizens and with this [coalition] government we are failing at that test’. Like Tanya I wanted to stand up and by counted. I knew that only Labour was fighting for a better deal for working people and I wanted to play my part.”
I asked Charlie and Tanya what they really cared about strongly, and besides family, friends and Newcastle United (in Charlie’s case) it was clear that they are both hugely committed to working hard to ensure that both North and South Jesmond wards are great places to live.
In Charlie’s words:
“I’m proud to support local businesses and I hope residents will join me in shopping local, to support the brilliant and diverse range of local businesses we have in South Jesmond. They really do add a real vibrancy to the area.
“I care deeply about the environment both locally and on a bigger scale. This past year has really proven the value of green spaces for our mental and physical health. I was really disappointed to see the scenes recently during the first few days of lovely weather this year that some had decided to use our much-valued parks and other green spaces to dump litter I went out and litter picked around Jesmond Vale, Jesmond Dene and Brandling Park. But it was great to see others that care about our green spaces out clearing up the mess, that community spirit is a really important and I’ll always work in that spirit. We can all do our bit to keep our area clean and tidy. I glad to be doing my bit.
“I was brought up with the belief that we all have a responsibility to each other and I know these are values that residents also share. At Christmas as we were unable to see our large extended family my parents decided to donate the presents that would have gone to their Great Nieces and Nephews to families in need. It was therefore no surprise to me that when we went to drop off the presents that it was a South Jesmond resident who was helping organise Christmas presents for families in need.”
“I’ve lived here a long time, seen many changes but just love the vibrancy and diversity of the community. I’ve lived in the same house for more than 30 years but there’s no sameness about the street – there’s always different people and lots going on (most of it good!)
“Fairness, injustice, equality and diversity and inclusion all rank very high in the things I care strongly about and I like to do my bit to even things up a bit wherever I can.”
What do they see as the main priorities and challenges in becoming councillors and working with the community in Jesmond?
“Noise, ASB, litter are all issues in both wards. None of them are new but are interrelated and getting worse. There is already a fantastic partnership working between North and South Jesmond councillors and I can only see Charlie and I enhancing that. A huge amount of work has been done jointly on these issues over recent years to improve things but the problem is changing and so it was great that both Charlie and I had the opportunity to meet with Kim McGuinness, PCC, during March to discuss how we could tackle these issues together.
It was heartbreaking to receive photos from a local resident of the amount of litter left on Forsyth Field following a few sunny days last month. I contacted Envirocall about this immediately and I know that many residents were pleased and grateful for the fantastic response from the Council who had a team on site and everything cleared by lunchtime.
E-scooters are coming high on the list of concerns too and I’m committed to continuing to report issues and to continue the ongoing work with Neuron to improve and hone this service and a consistent joint approach to this can only be beneficial.”
“I’m up for the challenge and for the last ten years those challenges have been with the backdrop of austerity that hasn’t gone away and now we have the coronavirus pandemic to add to that. I know how important it is we continue to all work together to find solutions to the issues that residents care about. I’ve listened to the issues that residents are passionate about and the ways in which they want to make the community an even better place to live. Through my experience as a trade unionist I know that we need to remember that although we may have difference on how to achieve change that it’s important to keep common goals at the forefront and look for solutions in collaboration.
“The budget that the government announced recently continues to let down our city, there was nothing for our key workers, our NHS workers, our police, to fix social care, our schools, our teachers and ultimately nothing for Newcastle.
“I want to be a part of the Jesmond and the Newcastle Labour teams that are fighting for the best deal for our community and our city, that are tackling the climate crisis, creating new jobs, supporting local businesses and standing up for the most vulnerable in our society. Newcastle has a bright future and Labour is the only party striving to achieve that.”
And their advice for anyone who wants to get involved?
“Just do it – contact your local Labour branch and see how you can get involved – there’s always something you can do. Get involved in your union.”
Tanya Pretswell is standing for North Jesmond and Charlie Gray is standing for South Jesmond.