In the far north of England lies Newcastle, which is an old industrial town. It was founded by the Romans and once the outermost northern border with Scotland. Newcastle expanded enormously during the industrial revolution. But in the mid 20th century it went to ruin and in the eighties the mining companies closed down and shipyards were dismantled. Traces of the ship-building industry are still visible when entering the town by boat.
Since the 1980’s the redevelopment of the city has been undertaken vigorously with large budgets made available by the central government in London. A lot of effort was put into demolishing, building and rebuilding on a large scale. The old industrial city has been refurbished into a city focused on retail business. The old city centre with Georgian and Victorian architecture has been fully restored.
The urban area Newcastle-Gateshead is a metropolis with 800.000 inhabitants and is the most important city of northeast England. With two universities (Newcastle University and Northumbria University) Newcastle is a university town. But recently it has been trying to display itself as a shopping and cultural town as well. A few years back Newcastle started working together with Gateshead, the town across the river, to establish itself as a cultural area.
Partnership The partnership between Groningen and Newcastle was established just after WWII. In 1988 the ties were reconfirmed. In the 1990’s representatives paid several mutual visits and there was lively interchange of artists. Both towns also cooperated with Odense and Bremen in the project Public Policies on Hard Drugs. More recently they have started the PURE cooperation which is focused on regional development and planning. Cause was the 60th anniversary of the partnership Groningen-Newcastle. In September 2008 the alderman for culture and economy traveled to Newcastle, heading a delegation of poets, writers and journalists.
Cultural interchange In the mid 1990’s lively movements between the literary circuits in Newcastle and Groningen emerged. The driving force behind all this was Keith Armstrong, the unofficial Newcastle poet laureate. Keith Armstrong used to perform once a year in Groningen, giving workshops mostly at the Werkman College and the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. From 2000 the Groningen poets laureate (Bart Droog, Ronald Ohlsen and Rense Sinkgrave) paid visits to Newcastle. Ronald Ohlsen and Rense Sinkgrave were received by the Lord Mayor.
In October 2007 the 15th anniversary of the literary partnership was celebrated in Newcastle with a literary evening organized by Keith Armstrong at which poets from Newcastle and the poets laureate from Groningen and Tilburg made appearances.
In September 2008 the Alderman of culture and economy visited Newcastle. He had invited the prime of the Groningen poets to accompany him. The poets performed in Newcastle together with poets and musicians from the British sister city.
While in Newcastle a visit was paid to the Northern Stage, the largest theatre company in northeast England. There are strong ties between the Northern Stage and the Noord Nederlands Toneel from Groningen. Both theatres launched a joint production called On Top of the Town. This play, with young people from both towns, was performed in Groningen (at Noorderzon) and Newcastle. The co-production was directed by Anne Rigby (Newcastle) and Floris van Delft of the NNT.