‘A Part of the Main’: Connecting Newcastle High to the Outside World, 20th January 2016


‘No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.’

It’s important to keep up connections with other people – especially at times of great change.  ‘No man is an island’ said the poet, John Donne.  Nor can a new building stand alone either.  At some point, if it’s to be ‘fit for purpose’ in this day and age, it must join the National Grid.  Hence the colourful road-works I had to pass on Tankerville Terrace today as I approached the site for this week’s photographs.

Lots of plant machines were assembled on site today.
A lot of heavy plant machinery was being used today.

Once on site, even if there had been more to view today I wouldn’t have been able to.  The ground in front of the gates now resembled a muddy battlefield, dissected east to west by a deeply incised trench.  All activity was focussed on connecting the new build to the mains.

Connecting NHSG to the gas and water mains.
‘Part of the main’: the site resembles a battlefield today …
... as everyone is focussed on connecting up the new building to the gas and water mains.
.. as the new building is connected to the gas & water mains.

Having fully absorbed the sound of machinery all working in unison and photographed the bright yellow pipeline snaking its way along the newly dug trench to connect up with the new building,  a small but very important change to the structure caught my eye.  No longer was it just grey steel: two vertical pieces of what I later learned was concrete board, the joins covered by red tape, had been fitted into place since last week.  This was really exciting to see as these areas of the building will ultimately be covered by the copper cladding.

Two vertical sections of concrete board cladding are now in place.
The first two sections of concrete board are now in place.

Elsewhere on site, new connections were also in the process of being made beside the Gateman’s cabin.  Nature and wild-life have always been an important part of the Church High site.  Apart from birds, early morning workers such as caretakers and cleaning staff have come across foxes and working in the Staff IT Room on two occasions I have looked up at the window and found myself face-to-face with a big grey squirrel happily sitting on a branch of the tree.

The biggest and oldest tree on site outside the Staff IT Room window.
The oldest tree on site allowed a view of squirrels through the Staff IT Room window.

The building work will clearly have impacted on wild-life in the short term, but ‘Tomorrow’s Footprint’ (having a positive effect on the environment) is one of Wates Construction’s ‘Five Commitments’.  Because of this, there has been tree protection in place on site from the start, but it was great to see Peter Wilson, Wates’ Gateman, had now erected a bird table in an attempt to lure the birds back again.

Wates' Gateman, Peter Wilson has now built a bird table behind one of the tree preservation fences.
Wates’ Gateman has now built a bird table behind one of the tree preservation fences.

From a personal point of view, it has also been wonderful to see how a little ‘niche’ blog has started to connect together folk who love this leafy patch of land on Tankerville very dearly.  We are all, in Donne’s words, ‘a part of the main’ and so I thought it might be nice to end this post by sharing with you some inspiring statistics.  At the time of writing, since January 27th this blog has been visited 525 times, by 214 people in over 50 cities in 8 different countries.  Now if that doesn’t show how special this place is, I don’t know what will!

The blog has had users.
The peaks all coincide with posts about the old building and since Jan 27th the blog has now been viewed in 8 countries.

analytics australia 4

Dylan Thomas described such strong natural affinities like this: ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/Drives my green age’

The ‘New Girl’ Up Close: New Build Site Tour, 13th January 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce upon a time there was a Junior School on Tankerville Terrace.  It had a secret doorway surrounded by overhanging greenery which was opened by the Junior School Secretary via an intercom system.

Google earth foundations Mar 2016 3The modern low-level buildings were set in lovely, open leafy grounds surrounded by grassy banks, hard and soft play areas, numerous hidden dens in the bushes and lots and lots and lots of trees.

Dorothy Chipchase & Kay Murdoch walking through Junior School grounds.
Dorothy Chipchase & Kay Murdoch, Junior School Secretary, walking through grassy-green Junior School grounds.

When the merger between Church High & Central High was announced and Church High chosen as the home of Newcastle High School for Girls, the Junior School grounds were at the centre of the plans.  The ‘Old Girl’ would soon be sitting alongside a ‘New Girl’.

Site Model for Newcastle High School for Girls.
The Site Model for Newcastle High School for Girls in 2014.

Visitors to Wates’ Site offices in Westward House can view the EWA architect’s site plan in the lobby to the right of the door.

The Entrance Lobby of Westward House.
The Entrance Lobby, Westward House: Wates’ Site Office.
The architect's site plan in close-up.
The architect’s site plan of the Tankerville Site in close-up.

Sadly, in order to make way for the new building, the Junior School had to be demolished and the pupils moved to the new NHSG Junior School at Chapman House.  Demolition began on site in April 2015.

Google Maps captures the first stage of demolition.
Google Earth captures Stage 1 of the demolition process.
A day later, I capture the same image from the ground.
A day later, I capture almost the same view from the ground.

In August 2015, when Wates took possession of the old Junior School grounds after Tolent departed, the site looked like this.

Google Earth image from 2016 of the Junior School site.
Google Earth image from 2016 of the old Junior School site.

By January 13th 2016, the same view looked very different indeed.

The new build with roof nearly complete, Jan 13th 2016.
The new build with roof nearly complete, Jan 13th 2016.

Although only one tree has had to go and others will be planted, there is still a way to go, however, before the site will look like this.

An Artist's Impression of Newcastle High School for Girls.
An Artist’s Impression of Newcastle High School for Girls.

But, thanks to my Site Tour on April 13th extending to the new building too, I can now be your guide to the ‘New Girl on the Block’.  The views of the old Church High buildings from the very top are amazing and they’ll be even better when the trees are green again.

Me on the top level of the new build with Church High behind.
Me on the top level of the new build with Church High behind.


Old Building Site Tour, 13th January 2016


True, you usually have to do something to put yourself there in the first place, ie, my weekly visits, but, sometimes, things do just seem ‘meant to be.’  Seneca put it much more eloquently: ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,’ he said.  Anyway, this pretty much sums up how I found myself donning a fluorescent yellow PPE vest, hard hat, gloves, protective glasses and size 8, metal-toed builders’ boots (two sizes too big for me!) to join a contractors & clients tour around the Tankerville site on Wednesday 13th January.

Man-size builders' boots lined up on the familiar blue-green carpet.
Metal-toed builders’ boots & very familiar blue-green carpet.

I’d taken my usual photos and had already stood a bit longer musing on the new work now underway in the area of the boiler room.  I don’t teach on Wednesday afternoons, but, nevertheless, I rarely stay out for more than about 35 minutes at the most.  I had been longer than that already today when, walking back past the Wates Site Office in Westward House, on the spur of the moment I decided to pop in there-and-then to check the name of someone for the blog.

Westward House: Wates' Site Office, latterly the Church High Music School.
Westward House: Wates Site Office, latterly home to the Church High School of Music.

Nick White was in a Health & Safety meeting, so I said ‘no worries’.  Ever helpful, however, Wates insisted on letting him know I was there.  Nick came out, we went into the next room, he wrote down the man’s name for me and, as I left, I bumped into Hilary French on the stairs.  We chatted briefly as more people started arriving.  Even when I heard her say, ‘Is there space for Christine?’, the penny still didn’t drop what was actually happening.  John Crosby, Director of Finance and Operations at NHSG  later told me the EWA team were all only there at that exact time because the London train had been delayed by an hour.  Now if that isn’t Fate, I don’t know what is?

John Crosby, NHSG Director of Finance and Operations.
John Crosby, Director Finance & Operations.

I don’t go there very often because it’s a busy working office, but it’s always nice to be in Westward again where most of the walls are still painted pale blue and the woodwork all dark green: ‘The blue of the sky/And the dark green of the forest.’  All visitors must report to Reception on the first floor where a very helpful young lady sits at a desk on the right at the top of the stairs.  I’m not sure what this little room was used for at Church High, but it takes only a small stretch of imagination to conjure up keyboards again in the left-hand office.

The Wates' Receptionist: guardian of the PPE kit.
Receptionist, Amy: guardian of the PPE kit.

The tour party I was joining turned out to include a wide range of people.  It was fascinating to meet Christine Sills and Mark, both architects.  Another gentleman explained he was one of the electrical contractors; he was interested to see the way the buildings were progressing even though his lighting units haven’t been installed yet.

To enter the site, we had to go through an elaborate series of gates and a huge security turnstile.  From that point on, I was always towards the rear of the group, constantly stopping to take photos for the blog.  Keenly aware of the privileged position I now found myself in, it was an obvious decision to record as much as possible digitally and allow my camera to serve as your eyes too.  Inside the old building, we couldn’t get near the front entrance today; it was blocked off because of the work going on in that area.  I only became aware of this retrospectively, however, because our attention was intently focused on new developments in the LRC.  The steelwork of the newly raised floor was now in place.  To me, it just looked so very small.

The newly-raised floor makes the LRC seem very small.
The newly-raised floor makes the LRC seem very small to me.

I have thought long and hard about how best to describe what it felt like to be walking round the old Church High building once again.  I could say it was just like meeting up with a old friend again after not having seen them for a while and it was – we just picked up where we left off despite a gap of a year and a half.  In the end, however, I realised the best way of all was just to let you see for yourself. Enjoy!