John W Matthews, Society Chairman and Trustee
How did you get involved in the Society?
I had been a member for a couple of years, but not active. I was simply happy to receive the quarterly magazine and attend the odd event while supporting a worthwhile conservation and historical organisation.
That changed when I responded to a letter in an issue of City and County questioning the Society’s enthusiastic support for the listing of the Odeon (former Paramount) Cinema.
I had worked for the company responsible for its construction and I had saved photographs and information from destruction when the company went into receivership. They were subsequently used in a report to the DCMS during the sadly unsuccessful campaign to have the building relisted and saved from demolition. It was in 2000 that the then Tyneside Committee invited me to join their ranks.
How long have you been a member?
I have been a member of the Northumberland and Newcastle Society for over 25 years, becoming chair of the Tyneside Committee in 2002 on the retirement of the late Miles Danby, Emeritus Professor of Architecture at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne who had outstandingly held the post for 25 years and was a “tough act to follow”.
As my work commitments changed, I reluctantly had to leave the committee for several years before returning as chair for a second term and in 2019, I was asked to become Chairman of the Society.
What are your main interests?
I am immensely proud to have been born in the county of Northumberland before the creation of the metropolitan district of North Tyneside. I have always had a tremendous passion for local history, which I believe stems from being taken for a walk around the city with my mother when only 9 or 10. She encouraged me to look up at all the historic buildings and from that beginning
I have retained a love for Newcastle and its stunning architectural gems ever since.
As a keen walker, I also revel in the open spaces and spectacular coastline of Northumberland and through the efforts of the Society, wish to see it protected for future generations to enjoy.
What's your professional background?
I retired in 2018 after over 40 years working in the North East construction industry; working for several large and small building and civil engineering companies and within the sectors supply chain.
In the latter stages of my career, while working as a freelance Business Development Manager, I completed a five-year term at Northumbria University Newcastle as an External Examiner for Construction Related Programmes in the Faculty of Engineering and Environment.
It was extremely rewarding and gave me a first-hand opportunity to see the emergence of a new generation of construction professionals – the architects, project, and construction managers of the future.
Where are your favourite place(s) in the Society's 'patch'?
My favourite patch is the Northumberland Coast – probably Craster to Dunstanburgh. As a young child, I can remember getting crab sandwiches at the pub and walking up to the castle in all weathers. In later life, it’s a place my wife Jacqueline and I take friends and visitors to Northumberland. It is simply stunning.
In the city, it’s the Ouseburn Valley. I love the way it’s continuing to evolve. Through my career in the construction industry, I have been involved with several developments in one way or another. The mix of buildings old and new is fantastic. It is very pleasing to see that local architects Xsite Architecture (who have their office under the road arches in the heart of the Ouseburn) are delivering many of the projects.
Anything to add?
I believe that we should all take an active interest helping to shape the environment in which we live, be it built or natural and be able to question and comment on government and local authority planning decisions which may influence or affect our day to day lives.
As the Society approaches its centenary, I passionately believe that the Northumberland and Newcastle Society has genuinely made a difference over the years since its creation and continues to do so today.