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Last Updated: Monday, 4 August, 2003, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
Striking gold on the Tyne
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News Online business reporter

In the first of a series on bridging the North-South divide, BBC News Online meets two people who moved from London to Newcastle to realise their business ambitions.



The good life

If Paul Campbell has any regrets about swapping the bright lights of media London for a nondescript office on Newcastle's Grey Street, he doesn't show it.

The attitude used to be good things never happen here. Now the attitude is 'why not?'
Paul Campbell
The former BBC radio producer is positively evangelical about the benefits of doing business by the Tyne.

"House prices are sensible, the quality of life is fantastic, the business community is more co-operative.

"And we are paying 25 times less for these offices than we were in Carnaby Street," Mr Campbell adds with a grin.

Like many London-dwellers with a young family, Mr Campbell had grown weary of the dirty and overcrowded capital.

The media production company he had founded 15 years ago was doing more of its business online, making the prospect of relocation possible.

But he says a move back to his native North East seemed "neither possible or desirable".

Quality of life

What changed his mind was meeting a couple of web developers who had come down to London from Newcastle in search of work.

Swan Hunter shipyard
The old north is on the way out
Impressed by their attitude and work ethic, Mr Campbell asked them to check out the cost of office space in Newcastle, "and that was the start of it".

In September, the Campbell family swapped their cramped three-bedroomed Victorian terrace in Hammersmith for a six bedroom Northumberland farmhouse with 15 acres of land.

The improvement in quality of life was immediate.

"In London, we were kept awake at night by the police helicopter looking for drug dealers.

"Here, it is so quiet we can hear the school bus coming on a morning from three quarters of a mile away," Mr Campbell tells BBC News Online.

He was equally impressed by the region's business culture.

New spirit

The Newcastle he had left behind in the 1970s was dominated by heavy industry, grimy pubs and an overwhelming sense of defeat.

Now, with the redevelopment of the Quayside area and the town's reinvention as a centre for the arts, there is, he claims, a new sense of optimism in the air.

"The North East is not without its problems, but it has changed a lot from the place I grew up in.

"The attitude used to be good things never happen here. Now the attitude is 'why not?'".

Gateshead Millennium bridge
Newcastle has cleaned up its image
The culture is more co-operative than in London, Mr Campbell says.

"People are genuinely concerned about the region as well as themselves, which I think makes them more open to collaboration."

He is also scathing about the "incredibly damaging" attitude in UK business - and the media in particular - that equates success with moving to London.

Ambition

The move north was not entirely without pain, however. Mr Campbell said he made eight members of staff redundant in London, although he claims all of them were later re-employed on a freelance basis.

Mr Campbell's company, Amazing Grades, which specializes in online study aids, currently has a turnover of about 2m a year.

But he says the move back to the North East has given him a new sense of purpose.

"I want to build this into a 100m a year business. And part of the reason why is that the area needs more successful businesses.

"I don't think I would be as driven if I lived elsewhere."


Bright lights up North

Lucy Sage also returned to her native North East to realise her business dream.

Two years ago she was a struggling to make it as an actress in London.

Lucy Sage
There is no way I could have done this in London
Lucy Sage
She had moved to the capital at the age of 13 to attend the prestigious Italia Conti stage school, where she was in the same class as Martine McCutcheon.

But her career did not follow the same trajectory as the former Eastender and by 2000 she was ready for a change of direction.

She decided to move back to the North East and, with the 70,000 she made on the sale of her house in Bethnal Green, found her own stage school.

With local authorities no longer funding stage school students, she thought she had spotted a gap in the market.

Youngsters that would once have been packed off to the capital's stage schools now have to find training locally - or not at all.

"I wanted to give local talent a chance to train without having the disruption to their home life that I had," she tells BBC News Online.

But she raised a few eyebrows with her choice of venue - a rundown old workingmen's club in Byker, an area of Newcastle not noted for its thriving arts scene.

Impressive facilities

"I was having real trouble finding premises that were big enough.

Sage Academy
The school is in an unlikely location
"Then I drove past this place one day and I just went in and asked if they wanted to sell it," she tells BBC News Online.

The Sage Acadamy, which opened its doors last year, has already, inevitably, been dubbed the Fame school of the north.

Given its origins, it is an impressive facility, with three purpose-built dance studios and a 120 seat auditorium.

It is the only stage school in the region offering full-time courses in the performing arts.

Profit

But Miss Sage is under no illusions about the prejudice she is likely to face from a London-centric industry.

"I am sure people will wonder if they are going to get the same quality of training in Newcastle.

"But they will have to learn to trust us.

"It is more one-on-one training here than in London. We can make them feel a little bit more special," she says.

A full time course at the Lucy Sage academy costs 4,900 a year, compared to about 10,000 at a London drama school. Students can also study for their A levels.

Miss Sage says she will know, within three years, whether the academy can turn a profit.

But she is already sure about one thing.

"There is no way I could have done this in London.

"There is too much competition, for one thing, and I would never have been able to afford the premises."

Next Monday: The multinational taking a new approach to job creation.


We asked you to send your experiences of the North-South business divide. Here is a selection of your stories.

Having worked all around the UK, Newcastle upon Tyne inarguably has one of the best balances of quality of life vs. economic stability compared to anywhere else in the country. There is a genuine vibe in the city which seems to set it apart from other locations. The 'work hard, play hard' ethic of the Geordie culture shines through, making it a vivacious Northern capital in which to consider setting up shop. Thanks to technology, location has been rendered a less important business criteria these days. We recently had the opportunity to establish our company anywhere in the UK - we chose Newcastle Quayside and have never looked back.
Andy, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

High price of living, unsustainable property prices and commuter misery - the symptom of a over-hyped capital city which is itself unable to sustain it's own population. If the government provided a greater incentive for businesses to relocate and dissipate across the country there would be greater regional development, less commuter traffic, more house price stability, less north/south divide and perhaps less people will feel the need to move 'down south' to earn a decent? living. Life can be better up north (or anywhere else apart from London) but why do major businesses feel the need to concentrate around London and the M4 corridor? In today's 24/7 world, with communication a key to business success, do we need to be physically located in any one particular location? The government needs to actively promote tele / regional working in this country rather than starving the regions whilst letting large corporations export jobs to India or other cheaper countries. Another short-sighted short-term method to earn a quick buck, which we will all pay for in unemployment, under-investment, lack of on-going high-tech skills training ending in eventual Third-World status.
DC, England

In the early 90s I was a 30 year old Chartered Secretary living and working in Surrey when redundancy struck. I moved back to my native North East as northern based agencies informed me that they could find me work which in the south east due to the recession was impossible. However, back in the North East I found a lot of prejudice and suspicion when people viewed my skills, experience and education, no-one was keen to employ me because I was seen as over qualified and too ambitious.

Needless to say much later I removed all my experience and educational achievements and within a short time I found a temporary job which served me well until I changed career to become a Technical writer and ended up back in the South East again.

Yet last year I was interviewed for a position in Newcastle and I found the attitude had changed and the North East is embracing the new and the educated, which could be one of many reasons why the North East is finding its old vibrancy. Needless to say I didn't get the job and am still in the South East hoping that one day someone somewhere will give me the nod so I can return "home".
Michael Clark, England

I hope a similar thing happens between London and the West Country. The West Country is in the unpleasant situation of having exorbitant house prices, but without larger incomes to soften the blow. This is meaning that people have no choice, but to move away. For instance, it is getting quite difficult to find a Cornish accent, as the locals have been priced out by people owning second homes, which is hampering efforts to revive the Cornish language, even though Asda is lending a hand. I hope that in time, the whole West Country can experience the same regeneration and Cornish will actually feel like a language that is alive, like Welsh is at the moment.
Graeme Phillips, Germany, normally UK

We moved from Portsmouth 'down south' to Newcastle nearly three years ago as the work was better up here (computer software) and we're still here and going to stay for many years. We sold a tiny two bed apartment and bought a five bed house in a decent area. But even if we sold it now, we'd still not be able to buy our old flat back.

The people are more friendly, the education and hospitals are better and more than anything, you can afford to have a life and the pace of life is fantastic :) I couldn't think of a better place to bring up kids :) which is something we can now consider than work ourselves to death just to afford our flat. We have recommended to a lot of our friends to move up here and several have. They are all earning more, able to afford a house and having a life which so they're all staying put.
Maria, UK

I moved to the Newcastle area seven years ago from the Thames Valley to be a student. Since graduating I choose to work here as well. Newcastle is a very welcoming city. However, there is something ingrained in Southerners minds that suggests that Newcastle is a slum and riddled with crime and unemployment. Close friends of mine are reluctant to visit. My parents and friends are always amazed that not only have I bought a flat in Newcastle, but I also work here. They seem amazed that there is any jobs here suitable for someone with post graduate qualifications. I often here from Southerners (or maybe its just the people I know, who knows) that jobs pay much less up here. I and my partner are earning more than most of our southern friends doing similar level jobs. The final misconception is that housing is cheap because it is of a lesser standard to that found in the south. Admittedly when I bought my flat two and a half years ago for 40,000 it was an absolute steal. However it is now valued at well approximately 110,000 (yes I am smiling as I type this) and is still going up and that's in a middle of the road area.

I would say that if you want to invest in property you've probably missed the boat. But you shouldn't fear that you property will dive in value or fail to give a decent annual return either. If you want to come a relax on the banks of the Tyne and have all the pleasures of the south east with none of the traffic, dirt, pollution and stress come along. But please not all at once, otherwise I'll have to move.
Jon, UK

I was born and brought-up in Manchester, then moved to Blackpool when I was seven. Since leaving college in 1980 I have spent 90% of my working life away from home as there are virtually no decent paying IT jobs outside of the South-East! In recent years it has become so hard to travel within the UK, and costs are so high, that I have been forced to live abroad, apart from my family, and I now only see them once or twice a month. I did have a thriving business as a computer consultant, and employed my girlfriend as a PA, and had a half share in a web-authoring company that employed five people in inner-city Salford, however since NL came to power they have bludgeoned the self-employed into submission, and it is now cheaper and easier for me to work in another country. For as long as I live I will never understand why IT companies want to be based in the capital where rents are sky high, and there are so many problems with crime and transport etc. Surely the government realises that the UK doesn't stop at the end of the tube lines, and could offer business some incentive to relocate, and to bring much needed work to the regions?
Andrew, Amsterdam NL and Blackpool UK

I moved up to the North East from London a year an a half ago, and I'm returning back. I swapped a two bed semi for a four bed detached and thought I'd hit gold. However, things were not as smooth as hoped. I found it difficult to fit in, with a real sense of regionalism, and anti-south in the work place. After living in London for four years, and never once being the victim of crime, my car was vandalised. Of course, it was not all bad, we had wonderful neighbours, and enjoyed living by the sea but it was not enough to compensate. The North East is a beautiful place, and wonderful if you have family and roots here, but if not, it is not the ideal place, I once thought it was. I now look forward to returning to the South East. Crowded and dirty it may be, but I know I will be accepted there, regardless of my regional/ethnic background.
Non-Geordie, UK

I was sorry to read the comments by the non-Geordie. I would classify myself in the same way, but have experienced none of the problems mentioned, in fact completely the opposite. I have found that the locals have welcomed me with open arms. Having lived in London, Essex, the south coast and Yorkshire, the North East is the friendliest by far, with the most laid back people. I have found unprejudiced and non-judgemental attitudes with very few exceptions. In fact, it is prejudice and narrow-minded attitudes towards the North that influenced my decision not to return to the South after university. The city of Newcastle is now a vibrant and exciting place to live - a big change from the place my Geordie partner left only 8 years ago. So many southerners don't know what they're missing!
Anon, UK

Comment for the non-Geordie.. I don't where you have been living but I and my husband have NEVER had any problems being accepted in Newcastle and Gateshead, infact one of the reasons we wanted out of the south east (where my DH is from) is that the local pub refused to serve me and I got some horrid comments from people based on where I am from. I'd rather stay in Newcastle/Gateshead where the people are honest and you know where you stand with people than go somewhere where money matters more than brains and people live false lives. As for crime, yeah some of it is more obvious to the naked eye but the insurance is cheaper and the police actually turn up when you phone them and they do arrest people. And I feel 100 times safer here than in Portsmouth or London anyway. We have no family here, no history but we've made some great friends and I know my children will be among some of the friendliest people going.
Anon, UK

A very interesting debate. Clearly there will be a standard amount of public sector jobs available in the North-East (education, medicine etc), if you want to work in (and this is off the top of my head): advertising, PR, journalism, financial services, marketing, the arts - then there will be far fewer job opportunities available. This is not to denigrate the North East, but its not good having the quality of life if you don't have a job to go with it. By the way I am a Midlander and quite neutral in the North v South debate.
Anon, London

I reluctantly moved to London from Newcastle five and half years ago. It took quite a while to get use to the pollution, traffic, congestion and overcrowding. However there is no doubt that as an accountant London offers far better opportunities. The quality of positions available is simply unmatched in the north east. I would love to move back 'home' but have been advised by recruitments agents in Newcastle to expect a salary reduction of 20% to 25%. Also house prices in Jesmond are the same, if not more, than my two bedroom flat in North London, which is in a comparable area. Also the north east seems to have developed mainly in the leisure/pleasure industry. I am sorry to have to write this but in my opinion the north south divide still lives on.
Anon, UK

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SEE ALSO:
North-south divide 'getting worse'
06 Jul 03  |  England
Tackling the great divide
04 Jul 03  |  England


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