The North-South Divide: A North Eastern Perspective

By Gabriel Callaghan, 3rd Year Physics Student.

I have lived in the North East for most of my life, but walking into Durham Uni feels like I have walked into a different country. You see the fancy clothes and hear the southern accents. Suddenly, in an area I have lived in for most of my life, people don’t understand my accent. Often, Durham Uni feels like Surrey has been transplanted into the North of England. I walked into the Billy B this morning and I suddenly felt that I was out of place with all the southern accents – in my own area! But, why did I want to write this article? Well, because I feel a reverse culture shock where us northerners are said to believe in substance and pragmatism whereas southerners seem trendy. Too many students haven’t experienced the ‘true north’.

Photo by Michael Baker.

Very few people I know have travelled out of the Durham City area at University, but as soon as you get past Neville’s Cross, it’s a totally different world. The main employment in this area was mining, where the pits generated the livelihood of communities. However, when the pits closed, communities were destroyed, and there was a major employment issue. Before, people could leave school and be within a job paying good wages associated with manufacturing or mining; it was an attitude of ‘if you can hold a shovel, you’re in work’. However, people were suddenly left in a position where they were uncompetitive in the job market. An area close to Durham, Easington, has high levels of poverty and deprivation, where people are doing very well if they achieve GCSE’s and move on to A-Levels. Social mobility is quite low.

It’s sad to see. I know that if I make it through the next few weeks, I will have a Physics degree and a passport to a good life. But people who have gone to Schools where the 9-4 pass rates are low fall at the first hurdle. Some people in these schools are quite intelligent and I think that they are very capable. The issue comes from stagnation of the economy and a lack of self-confidence. I find that people think that they are only capable of a low grade, but when pushed, when the psychological barriers are removed, they succeed. That’s my experience through SCA tutoring. In the South, it is more likely that your parents went to University or that you are surrounded by people who have been to University, so it’s much easier to gain confidence and do well.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Fortunately, I went to a good state school in this area, but not all people are given such a good education. Their schools are falling apart (I remember a window falling out of my old school and a huge leak, although we got sent home for the day!). I attribute the school facilities to politics: this area is loyal to one political party, they are safe seats for Labour and politicians don’t need to make an effort by promising new schools if their seats are safe, as they would in some of the more fluid seats down South. Resources are going to be promised to the areas where the seats are marginal.

We all follow the same a-level system. But I think that there are fewer opportunities for enrichment in Northern schools compared with down South. In London, you have various events at the institutes where you can experience a subject and there are many museums putting on events for primary school children to cultivate them before secondary school. If you’re into physics there are various IOP talks in London, something which looks amazing on UCAS. I went to a primary school surrounded by farms where we were accustomed to farming, but not quantum physics.

Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

Down South, a lot of people live in the London commuter belt, where finding a new job which pays well could be only a 30 minute train journey away.  It’s not that simple in the North East. There are no investment banks based up here and the type of high paying jobs that are in the South are not available. Looking at summer internships in areas such as actuarial work, they are all based in the South, and it’s not feasible for me to move that far. The expenses wouldn’t make it worth the money you are paid. The problem with the British economy is that it’s very London based.

But, I wouldn’t move down South. A lot of beautiful areas such as Kielder and the Pennines are an hour away and you will get a different perspective than in Durham City. Other market towns such as Bishop Auckland host food festivals and the place has a whole different vibe than Durham City. Durham City is not really the North of England, it’s a microcosm of the South. I can see why students feel trapped in the ‘Durham Bubble’: you can see everything in the city within a day. These smaller towns are a short bus ride away and you will get to experience the ‘true north’. Of course, I must recommend a visit to Beamish Museum (20 minutes from Durham City).

Kielder Forest. Photo by The Boy that time forgot at the English Wikipedia. Used under the Creative Commons Act.
Beamish Museum. Original image. Used under the Creative Commons Act.

There is also less social segregation in the North. I have friends from school who are from all backgrounds. Just because someone hasn’t been to University doesn’t make them inferior: some of the most stimulating conversations I have had have been with non-graduates. I think that makes me a more rounded person intellectually – I’m not accepting of the first thing I hear on the news. Us Northerners don’t feel compelled to follow the flock because of something appearing cool on Facebook, such as you must wear these shoes to be cool. I like to refer to the South as a Facebook economy where everything lies on trendiness, not substance.

We are more traditional in our ways. I like a Greggs pasty (definitely steak bake!) rather than some fancy food (yes, even the Calman café are trying to be fancy- I’ve never seen a pasty, proper food!). I noticed a small advert telling people that there was some free stuff at a certain tube station in London: in some vain attempt to create a sense of community or some music festival in Kingston Upon Thames where you are supposed to bond in an environment denser than a black hole, never to see them again apart from as a meaningless Facebook friend. Up North, we know who our neighbours are and everyone knows everything about everyone, much beyond their profile status. Community is much stronger rather than based on some facebook party. One thing in our village is that everything has been the same for as long as I can remember -the postmaster and the convenience store owners are an integral part of the community and everyone knows them personally. In London, the traditional post office is disappearing and a local bakers is not a shop where you get fresh stotties and proper food every morning, it’s all super trendy.

I would appreciate the views of one of my Southern comrades on this topic! Just don’t disrespect Greggs – they do offer vegan sausage rolls now!

Want to share your thoughts? We’d love a response to this article detailing a Southern perspective of Durham. If you’d like to write a full response, or if you have any thoughts on this opinion article that you would like to share with us (wherever you’re from), please email johns.chronicle@durham.ac.uk.

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