Footballers, philanthropists and squirrels – Ponteland has got the lot
PUBLISHED: 22:47 14 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:44 20 February 2013
Footballers, philanthropists and squirrels – Ponteland has got the lot, as Jo Haywood discovers
With more than 11,000 residents, an industrial estate, a business park, two supermarkets, two meeting halls, four churches, a dozen sports clubs, five schools, five banks, six hotels, seven law firms, seven care homes and six estate agents, you could be forgiven for assuming that Ponteland was a bustling town.
But its not. Its a village and proud to be so.
Were well aware that we have all the trappings of a town, but we are very keen to maintain our strong village identity, said Peter Cowey, mayor of Ponteland. Its all about community spirit and talking to each other. We might not have the physical presence of a village anymore, but we are very much a village at heart.
This substantial Northumberland hamlet, just eight miles north-west of Newcastle and a short three-mile dash from the citys airport, sits on the banks of the River Pont, which joins the Blyth just a short splash downstream.
Ponteland started life as a small, marshy village noted for its ruined pele tower, its bridge and churches, but has been greatly enlarged over the years, particularly since the development of the substantial residential area of Darras Hall, to become the fourth largest parish in Northumberland (just a handful of residents short of Morpeth, Hexham and Prudhoe).
Its affluent Darras Hall housing estate has proved a popular choice with some of the North Easts wealthier househunters, notably Newcastle United players and managers including Alan Shearer and Peter Beardsley, and was probably a decisive factor in the village welcoming a Waitrose supermarket one of only a handful in the region.
Pontelands boom time began at the beginning of the 20th century Darras Hall was launched in 1910 and is showing no sign of slowing. The local population has trebled since 1971 and is continuing to grow, and there are currently two major housing scheme proposals under discussion some of it heated. Banks Property would like to build up to 500 homes at Clickemin Farm, while Lugano Property Group has a wide-ranging scheme for the village which, among its numerous component parts, could include a new housing development.
Both developers are holding talks with villagers and relevant official bodies to gauge opinion and are inviting suggestions on what the future should hold.
Its encouraging that people aspire to live in Ponteland as it means we must be doing something right, said Peter. But we have to make sure the infrastructure is in place to deal with any further extensions of the village.
This could, according to the town councils local plan, mean the construction of a 30 million extension of the Metro and an 80 million bypass.
This is a busy, thriving community, said Peter. And we actively encourage that. But a bypass is essential if we are to avoid becoming just another part of the urban sprawl. Pontelands roots as a village with all the care and community spirit that entails are vitally important and should always be our highest priority.
Ponteland, home to Northumbria Police HQ, also boasts excellent schools with consistently impressive results, property that easily achieves sale prices into the multiple millions, a lovely park, excellent transport links, numerous pubs and restaurants, and an enviable array of independent shops and businesses. In other words, its got great bragging rights at a time when many villages are struggling to stay positive.
This doesnt mean, however, that its too cosmopolitan for its own good. It still enjoys its fair share of typical English village idiosyncrasies. Its busy annual calendar includes a New Years Day wheelbarrow race and a late summer duck race as well as the usual balls, parties and flower shows. And it is home to one of the countrys most successful red squirrel support groups.
Ponteland SOS is a volunteer group set up to maintain and actively increase the local popultion of red squirrels. A recent survey revealed that while there are still a good number of the bushy-tailed beasts living in the area, particularly around the golf course and the police headquarters, their numbers have waned over the years.
Urban red squirrels are very rare, said Sally Hardy, co-ordinator of the Ponteland group and recent winner of the national Red Squirrel Survival Trusts Leading Light award. In fact, Ponteland and Darras Hall are among the few areas in Northumberland to share their habitat with red squirrels. But this habitat is constantly under threat and we are the only ones who can protect them from extinction.
This means driving carefully, not cutting down trees (particularly pine), supplementary feeding and discouraging dastardly grey squirrels and their deadly squirrel pox virus.
And while theyre not protecting their nut-loving, furrier residents, the good people of Ponteland are also currently raising money to revamp the Memorial Hall, a hive of activity for more than 90 years and a bit tired and rundown as a result.
The signs are good so far, with many thousands pouring in to give this well-used hub a new lease of life. But this generosity shouldnt come as any surprise as the village was familiar with the concept of the Big Society long before it became a phrase immersed in political rhetoric.
The village went into a fundraising frenzy to raise the money to build the Memorial Hall and War Memorial in 1922, with generous donations, jumble sales, bazaars and carnival days ensuring those who had fallen for their country were aptly remembered.
Its the way things were done then, said Peter. And the way we continue to do things in Ponteland today.
The photographs which accompany this feature were taken by members of the Ponteland Photographic Society. The group was founded in 1978 and now has 45 members of all ages from schoolgirl Jess Keating to honorary president Geoff Willey who will celebrate his 101st birthday this month.
Geoff was one of the societys founder members and is pictured at the groups AGM with the towns mayor Peter Cowey, signing the Diamond Jubilee Loyal Address, which was presented to the Queen.
The programme for next season begins on September 10th and will cover all aspects of photography, with practical sessions, visiting speakers, competitions and discussion.
Meetings are held at the Merton Hall from 7.30pm on Monday evenings and new members are welcome. Membership costs 30 a year, which can include one other family member. For more information go to www.pontelandphotographicsociety.co.uk or contact the chairman, Mike Sadler, on 01661 823519.