Peter is employed by Gateshead Council teaching one to one lessons with pupils who don’t go to school.
He also goes into primary schools to teach aspects of local and regional history.
It’s a great feeling when a kid you have helped returns to school. One of the mothers got in touch saying two years after I stopped teaching her daughter to say that she had gone on to do A levels at Gateshead College.
From his North East history research, Peter has collected many stories and compiled them together for a new book – Radical Roots – the Human Rights History in the North East.
There are many interesting, positive stories of how people struggled for their own rights and fought for the rights of others too.
On the front cover is a picture of the Earl Grey monument in Newcastle city centre….
The writing on it is not about tea! It signifies people getting more rights to vote and the abolition of slavery because North East people have always campaigned for their own rights and worked for people across the world to get their human rights.
The fight against slavery was strong, for example in 1792 down at Newcastle Guildhall there was a petition of 3,000 signatures against slavery, which was quite a large percentage of the people living in Newcastle at the time.
We can protest about what is happening thousands of miles away or about our neighbours having to use a food bank. I don’t see a division there, it’s about human dignity and decency, where ever the person lives and whoever they are.
We can’t just fight for the rights of one group and not the other, it’s about everybody having the same rights.
My mum brought me up right, she taught me about Human Rights and in Newcastle there is an Amnesty book shop that I helped set up on Westgate Road in 2002.
We talk about women’s rights but how many Northumberland kids are taken to see the suffragette Emily Davison’s grave in Morpeth? I think it should be mandatory to learn about our history.
Kids are taught art and music from around the world which is great don’t get me wrong, but if they don’t know culture and history from their own area first, how can they relate art and music from around the world to everyday life?
In Radical Roots there are stories I think we should all know, and I’m still learning about our North East history.
We teach pupils about the Holocaust, Anne Frank and what she wrote in her diaries. But we don’t teach about the connection to the Durham Light Infantry and their role in the Relief of the Belsen camp.
I went to Hartlepool and interviewed the son of a DLI soldier whose father was there at the time of the relief and just after Anne Frank’s passing.
During the First World War, footballer and munitions factory worker Bella Reay played for Blyth Spartans, her story also features in the book.
(Bella Reay features in a play by South Shields playwright Ed Waugh, post 3rd December 2021).
I also took the presentation to a school in Cramlington. The teacher linked in the work by the Pitmen Painters, who aren’t in the National Curriculum, but linked them to the work by the artist L.S. Lowry – who is in the National Curriculum, which I thought was great that they saw the connection.
Also featured in the book is the Yemeni community in South Shields and the riot that happened in August 1930, and we discover why it happened. It also mentions over a number of years the eventual assimilation of the Yeminis into South Shields, some through inter-marriages.
I have worked with the Roma community on Tyneside. There are around 6,000 in Newcastle. If you’re a community coming into a place you have to have something to offer, rightly so, and it’s usually through their music or food.
Look at the Chinese or Indian. Bringing something goes down well because they don’t have the language.
The Irish came over to Tyneside as early as the 1850s after the famine. Jarrow has a big population of Irish. I think the Roma can look at what the Irish did with their music, while keeping their own identity.
Some of the Roma musicians that we have on Tyneside today are amazing. Perhaps one day there will be a Roma centre on Tyneside like the Irish Centre in Newcastle.
When I do a presentation about the Roma in schools, I finish with a power point picture of TV entertainers Ant and Dec. I ask people how many of you would describe them as Irish superstars? No hands. Then I ask how many would describe them as Geordie superstars? All hands go up!
But both their surnames and background are Irish and who is to say that kids from Newcastle in thirty to forty year time with a Roma background won’t be doing the same on TV?
Now I’m working in schools talking about the North East mining heritage which I think is important to remember. It is important to remember the community spirit and the great innovations, but we’ve got to keep fossil fuels in the ground now and work towards green energy and get the kids to understand that.
Hopefully we can get them to stand up in the future and shout for the North East to get more green investment, after all 20,000 County Durham miners lost their lives providing energy in the past.
It’s quite moving talking about the mining heritage, and in County Durham it’s all documented about 8 or 9 year old kids losing their life down the pit and that brings it home to kids of the same age.
I’ll also be at the Durham Miners Gala talking about this, that there was a lot to be proud of, but certainly not pointing the finger saying you caused all the problems of Climate Change.
Although we know now we need to develop green energy, without coal in the past we might still be stuck with the same lifestyles as the 18th century.
To contact Peter and buy copies of Radical Roots – the Human Rights History in the North East
send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alikivi April 2023.