I'm off to be a Grumpy in Ghana

I'm off to Ghana. I've got my visa, I've started taking my malaria pills and both upper arms feel a bit like pin cushions but I'm protected against typhoid, yellow fever, polio, diphtheria, hepatitis A - and hopefully the onset of old age.

I'm off to Ghana. I've got my visa, I've started taking my malaria pills and both upper arms feel a bit like pin cushions but I'm protected against typhoid, yellow fever, polio, diphtheria, hepatitis A - and hopefully the onset of old age.

I am going to be working on a community development project - doing a bit of teaching and helping build a new classroom for a school in a small village in central southern Ghana.

Along with some other Grumpies (defined as cool people over 40) I will be living in the same village as the project.

I understand that facilities will be less than basic; the shower will be a bucket of cold water.

Why am I doing it? Because like many other people of my age I want to see parts of the world off the tourist track, I want to make a small contribution and I want to have a new experience.

I left Nexus last year, partly to take over as non-executive Chair of the new Northumberland Tourism but mainly to set up something called `Gaps for Grumpies'.

I had discovered a company, based in Newcastle, called Madventurer.

They had been set up some six years ago by a former Newcastle University student - and African chief - John Lawler, who had a bright idea to provide short gaps for students and school leavers, rather than the traditional three or six month gaps, and combine these with an adventure holiday.

Since then he has sent over 2,000 students to eight countries worldwide on projects revolving round the themes of education, health and sanitation.

So you could be teaching English in a Kenyan primary school, helping construct storm drains in Ghana, working with street children in Peru or coaching soccer in Fiji.

Without exception the students (and school leavers) come back with a great story to tell. For many it has reshaped their future lives. The advantage of the very short projects (most are five weeks) is that even with the adventure afterwards the student is only away from home for two months and therefore is not taking a year out of their career ladder.

When I heard about it I thought "why should students have all the fun?" I would love to work on such projects. And why can't I travel to far flung places such as Timbuktu over land?

So `Gaps for Grumpies' was born because I thought there would be many people like me who want to do something different, want to contribute, have recently retired or been made redundant or just want a career break.

As well as doing some work on the project myself I will be seeing how other grumpies - there are three from different parts of the country already out on this project in Ghana - are finding it. I will tell you how it is going when I return.

Meanwhile if you are over 40 and a little restless visit www.gapsforgrumpies.com

I HAVE just spent 24 hours in London and thought for a time I was involved in a terrorist bomb alert. I was intending to take the tube to Archway to go to the Ghanaian High Commission for a visa.

I had started my journey at Victoria Station at around 0845 but just as I was about to go down the stairs to the Underground from the main line station along with about 100 other people, when suddenly sirens started sounding and yellow lights flashing.

The other 99 however didn't seem very alarmed; they all just stood in their place at the top of the stairs as someone from London Underground closed the gates to the station. No-one moved, they just stayed there; the 100 became 200 fairly quickly then I realised this was just the daily routine crowd control measures at Victoria Station.

Victoria Station is now so heavily used - to put it into context more people use Victoria Underground Station each day than the whole of the Tyne and Wear Metro! - and so for safety reasons when the platform starts to get full they have to close the entrances to the station. Sure enough after about three minutes - and probably two train loads had departed - we were let down to the platform.

I couldn't get on the first two trains but managed to get on the third.

Working in Newcastle and using the Metro is just so much more pleasant.

DESPITE the five District Councils advocating a rural and an urban authority for different parts of Northumberland, the proposal to just have a single authority for the county of Northumberland seems to me a no brainer.

Last week the Northumberland Tourism Board voted unanimously - members being either council officers or councillors agreed to withdraw and not take part in the debate - to support the proposals put forward by Northumberland County Council for a single tier authority as being the best option for the promotion of tourism in Northumberland.

Northumberland is a huge county, but it only has a population about the size of Sunderland, which has been a unitary authority for 20 years. Provided there is a system and process to ensure local people can put forward their views powerfully about issues and priorities affecting their local areas then the arguments are strong. Firstly finance - the estimated eventual saving of some £17m a year is not to be sneezed at particularly if that money is reinvested in better services.

Second speed of decision making - the current arrangement where there are so many District Councillors in Northumberland. most with very limited powers, unsurprisingly results in parochialism. A single authority, with well paid councillors who are encouraged to take the countywide strategic view, is much more likely to make decisions which are best for the whole population. Under the County Council's proposals the number of councillors will reduce from some 300 to 67.

Three: Productivity. It will be marvellous for bodies like us to be dealing with one individual, one department or one organisation rather than the 5 or 6 different ones we encounter at present.

While the District Councils proposal to create an urban and a rural authority will certainly be an improvement on the current arrangement I can see battle lines between the two already being drawn. Unlike the sub-regions such as Tyne and Wear and to some extent Teesside, Northumberland has a much stronger identity and a single Northumberland authority will enable Northumberland's voice to be heard more powerfully regionally and nationally.


David Whetstone
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Graeme Whitfield
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