Newcastle Buddhist Centre

It was a quiet Sunday morning and an email notification pinned into the inbox telling me about Newcastle Buddhist Centre. A little research found me a few hours later in their new home on the Westgate Road. 

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I visited Newcastle Central Mosque back in February and thought it a good idea that I visit other religious centres around the northeast. Purely out of my own curiosity and interest in religion.

During my university years, I had studied Buddhist Philosophy and Psychology not that I remember too much about it now but I still retain a basic knowledge about the religion. My interest in learning about what other people believe or use as a mantra for their own lives will always fascinate me.

Newcastle Buddhist Centre belongs to a western version of Buddhism called the Triratna Buddhist community which incorporates various parts of the two strands of Buddhism from the Mahayana and Theravada traditions.

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It was good to see that they had used a building that had been empty for a while. Breathing new life in to old. Making sure that they use the things that around. It was a beautiful building and still retained some of the old stone fireplaces that would have been used when the building was a house.

Walking in I met a lady called Sarah who immediately asked if I would like a cup of tea. You know you are going to like a place when someone offers you a beverage before you tell them the reason for your visit.

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The house was lovely. I know from my own experience with renovation how much things cost to put right and there was no expense spared when it came to making the place a sanctuary for peace and calm. Entering into the main room on the first floor you felt you could spend time in meditation and calm. They provided mats, cushions, chairs and even blankets for those who spend time in mindfulness and tranquillity.

Another gentleman gave me a brief rundown of the history of the Triratna Buddhist Community. A small photo of the founding teacher had been placed at the foot of a large figure of the Buddha sitting aloft a foundation that represented the industrial industries of the northeast.

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I explained the history I had experienced growing up and my own involvement with meditation. Something I don’t practice at the moment but knowing the benefits of with someone who has suffered from depression and anxiety it’s certainly something I am keen to explore once again.

They had their official opening the day before I visited and the month of June there are a lot of events catered for people who are thinking about exploring meditation and mindfulness.

Asking about their membership I was told they do have a number of people who are regulars but also there are people who will attend every few months and to me, that is what I found appealing that you are not obliged to attend and not frowned upon if you miss a few meetings.

Their connections and events were just not limited to the northeast. I noticed a number of activities planned all over the UK. A time when we are immersed in social media and 24-hour rolling news its difficult to maintain a balance between connecting people online and communicating with others in the real world. People are paying hundreds of pounds for weekends of digital detox. I think its time we all looked at how much time we are spending each day.

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It used to be ‘Waste not want not’ – A new Cafe opens in Chester-le-Street

It was warm humid afternoon and I was driving back from lunch when I noticed a new place had opened up in Chester-le-Street. 

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The first thing anyone does when they want to find out about anything from illnesses to train times it to get on to Google and research it. If it isn’t on the internet then I want to know more about it especially when it comes to Chester-le-Street. I did find some prior knowledge about the cafe before my visit which helped in understanding a little more about what was taking place.

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I find it disturbing and very sad that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world there are still people who are struggling to make ends meet that regularly go without a decent meal. All of us have read stories before about people those who have very little or no income using the facilities of food banks.

Now some organisations have claimed over winter there has been a rise in those who are in paid employment turning to these organisations. We need to be honest an open about how we use AND waste food in the UK. It is reported that up to 7 million tonnes of edible food is being sent to landfill each year while 8.4 million people are regularly going hungry.

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I managed to grab some time with a manager who was one of a few dedicated volunteers that set up the cafe. Mim Skinner is one of the people who set up this project and she kindly answered some questions.

Me – What is this cafe all about?

Mim Skinner – It’s a cafe that serves food that normally that would go to landfill food that is surplus from food manufacturers, business or restaurants. One of the biggest of the suppliers that we use at the moment is Amazon who has a food distribution centre in the Team Valley along with a ready meal manufacturer that produces quantity packs of thousands (which some still have use-by dates of up to six months) These will be deemed a surplus to requirement.

Me – It’s not just food that could be going off?

M.S. – There will be stuff that’s passed its best before date as that’s a policy label rather than a safety label. That means you aren’t putting anyone in danger you are using your head you know if some vegetables are wilting we won’t use them but we are happy to serve things that are past their best before date as that is legal. 

Me – So are using food that is surplus and adhering to common sense and hygiene? (I read that they have a 5* rating for food hygiene)

M.S. – We have the same food hygiene and any other guidelines as other catering businesses. In terms of supply and storage and things like that, we have the same rating or better than other catering companies. 

What would be the main message of the company?

M.S. – We can talk about food waste but when you come into the cafe and have a three-course dinner that’s destined to be binned it’s about raising awareness and the environmental side of is a big part of it. The other side of it is about social inclusion. Whether they have time money or skills. 

Me – Is it a free cafe?

M.S. – It’s a not a free cafe. I think if we said that the food is free that means we are saying that the food doesn’t have value. We should be giving back its value and people to have a huge amount of value and that’s not counted by the amount of money that’s in your pocket. We wanted to say that you have something of huge value in their time, skills and in their kindness. You can pay with that … 

Me – I read that you have even catered for weddings.

M.S. – Yeah, we have done four now and a couple of christenings. Weddings are again such fun as it’s a massive statement about food and the quality of food as well.

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Me – Is it just in Chester-le-Street or are there other places like this around?

We are part of the ‘Real Junk Food Network’ there are ones that are national and there are ones in Newcastle pop up restaurants and looking to start something more permanent and there are two but our other side of the business is social so this means ‘Pay as you Feel’ they can come if they have time, skills or money. 

Me – I have friends who have kids and they’ve asked about places that are ‘child-friendly’. Are kids okay to visit?

We made the cafe not too tightly packed for two reasons one because we wanted to kids to have space and the other is wheelchair access. There is an area for kids which has toys and colouring. (I mention that some kids I saw were engaged and not bored or being told off by adults.)

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Me – Can you take the food away?

People can order take away lunches and takeaway drinks as well that there is as a community fridge which is based on the same principle of ‘Pay as you Feel’ which contains things that people can take home.

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Opening hours

Monday Thursday Friday and Saturday – 10 – 4

(They are hoping to open up on a Tuesday as well when they have trained up more volunteers)

Practicalities 

Wheelchair access. Yes. No problems. Flat from the street no ramps.

Toilets. Yes. Plus an accessible toilet for wheelchair users. 

Provides for vegan, vegetarians on those on gluten-free diets. 

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Walking in to Refuse Cafe I felt an overwhelming sense that you were welcomed those from all backgrounds. No matter what age or nationality, rich or poor and old or young. I made it in mention my background that I was part of the church and I was gay. I was informed that they had also provided some catering for the Pride Event in Durham last week.

Their policy is about inclusion. Everyone should feel welcomed. To me, it’s a refreshing idea. We are living in a time where budgets are tight and there isn’t a huge amount of disposable income. The sensible thing to do it to address this problem by being responsible with the food that we grow and eat.

 

Laughing

I was thinking the other day how much I used to laugh when I was younger. Well not just when I was a kid it was a habit that still happens today.

Once I visited a friend in London while he was at university and we had visited some friends in the halls of residence. Nothing out of the ordinary apart from when we got to their room they had a problem which they were trying to fix.

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One of the legs of the bed had come loose from the bed spring base. The people were trying to fix it and thought it was possible that the two pieces of metal could be welded together with a lit match. Seriously, or not so. They were deadly serious and thought that they could do it. I know I was only about 22-23 at the time and I knew it was utterly futile. The fact that they kept trying made me laugh. A lot. The sort of belly laugh that hurts and your eyes stream with tears.

Each time I thought of it I laughed. Even now over twenty years ago it still makes me chuckle to myself. Laughter is an amazing thing. Obviously, it released all sorts of chemicals in the brain and its great for physical health reducing blood pressure.

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I have always loved comedy. Loads of stuff that I see and hear these days don’t make me laugh. The Michael McIntyre comedians are dull and uninteresting so many so-called comics are making a lot of money out of poor unintelligent comedy that’s badly thought out and badly written. Observational comedy has been done to the death and laughing at someone who cannot find the keys in the house is terrible.

There are not many people in life that can make me laugh. Victoria Wood was one comedian and writer who could. Her intelligent wit and style broke moulds for women in comedy. For anyone to write, act and produce such amazing comedy takes a genius and she is certainly missed by many.

I adore the traditional comics like Dick Emery, Les Dawson and Morecambe Wise. All of them honing their trades in tough working men’s clubs throughout the country before making their fame on television.

Kenneth Williams once said ‘What happens if we find out that life is just a joke … well, let’s make it a good one’.

 

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Stumbling across the local council’s facebook site I saw that they had flown the flag for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and biphobia. In 2018 you would think attitudes were more tolerant. Nope. 

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This comment was the most bizarre out of the ones I read. This lady is stating that the council do not have a right to fly a flag above their own town hall in the name of fighting prejudice. I am baffled and confused.

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If it had been phrased as a humorous comment then maybe some people might have laughed but it wasn’t. Someone actually stating that they are fed up with hearing and seeing things about those in minority groups really needs to learn some history and see how living as a minority in any country affects someones day to day life.

Also that he has gone out of his way to use his energy and time commenting on it too. What it must be like to be able to live a perfect life away from minorities and be able to function as a decent human being.

In my experience, people who have hatred towards LGBT people have issues themselves and hate that part of themselves that may even have an attraction to the same sex. Those who are comfortable in their own sexuality don’t generally seem to care one bit about those who are trying to change people’s minds.

Lost connections – depression

Maybe we do over think things. I know I do. But if there is a problem then usually there is an answer. 

I have been told  – not only by others but by my therapists – that overthinking something just isn’t good for us – but it is a natural human response. If we are lost in an unknown place we look for a way out and if are pain receptors are being buzzed continuously we will look for a cessation.

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Stumbling across some youtube channels and tv programmes I found an interesting documentary maker called Hamilton Morris. He is pursuant of psychedelic experiences and the use of drugs to induce such as a state. I became interested in his research as I have had mild side-effect experiences from my anti-depressant I am currently taking called Mirtazapine.

I can single out that certain chemicals have reacted with the medication to cause sleep disturbance and vivid dreams bordering on hallucinations. It’s only after a couple of hours of being awake I have found myself free from thinking what I had experienced in sleep wasn’t actually real.

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Now, this could be a combination of a number of things I acknowledge that it has only ever occurred when I have been taken this medication. In a current study, the drug MDMA has proven effective in the treatment of PTSD. I am really interested in this area and whether I am able to take a pill in such a way that might ease the depression. But does that mean I would have to take it every time I felt I needed it or ‘prescribed’ on a regular basis like normal anti-depressant medication?

Hopefully, in the future we will be able to treat mental health as quickly and as openly as physical health. The funding that should be available for effective treatments. The chronic under-funding leads to a detrimental knock-on effect on the rest of the country.

 

 

Experiences in teaching 3 – dance

Never been a huge fan of dancing. Always goaded for not ‘loosening up’ in physical education at school. 

My first tutor group as a teacher in a secondary school I was given year 11. Not usual for someone who had just qualified as a teacher to have the oldest ones in the school. But they were a nice enough group. One of the ‘schemes’ in school as a tutor was to mentor some of the pupils who were seen as middle-ground and maybe needed a little encouragement and guidance.

There was one girl who said to be that one thing she really wanted to do was become a dancer. I didn’t dismiss her or tell her she be better off working in a shop let some terrible careers advisors do. I encouraged it. But was told that her ‘father wouldn’t let her’ and it wasn’t ‘the right thing’

It was a number of years later I heard that she had a few children and was in a terrible relationship with a lad who was abusive. I wondered what would have happened if she had followed her true vocation and became a dancer. This video is for you wherever you are. I still think of you.

Experiences of teaching 2 – Summer of ’95

That summer is still very clear in my mind. I was finishing my PGCE and after a final school observation returned to Oxford.

Staying at a friends house on the outskirts of Oxford no longer rented a room in the city as my time as a full-time student was coming to a close. Briefly returning to my home where I would spend a month in another school observation – the final piece of my teacher training.

It was a hot summer in ’95. The thermometer hitting at least 30ºc on one or more occasion. Coming as I do from the northeast where we don’t experience such extremities I found it unbearable. It was later on to be an omen – a dreadful indication of what lay before me. Of all the people I had to have contact with was a certain line manager. I had been offered a job in a school on the east side of Durham. Not knowing the area I thought it would be good to put in a little research first.

I knew something wasn’t quite right when she invited me round one night for a meal before the school term commenced. I knew it would be utterly impolite to not accept her invitation. I couldn’t make a bad impression right at the beginning of my teaching career as so much had been placed on the first year of teaching. ‘They’ had the ability to confirm or reject someone in the probationary period. Something I would find out later in life at complete bollocks.

I accepted and spent a soulless night chatting and providing small talk not to give away too much or to come across as someone who was unsuitable to take on responsibility. I know now it was a fishing expedition to find out exactly how I thought and ticked.

Of all the people I was lumbered with at the first experience of professional life was a horrible, gossipy, nasty piece of work, who would sell her last bean for a morsel of scandal. She was the worst of all line managers. Unprofessional and unsupportive. Someone who shouldn’t have been in a position of any responsibility.

Even after twenty-three years since that first meeting, she hasn’t changed one bit. I receded after the first year that I couldn’t go on and continue to work with her it was either it was her or me. Of all the other heads of department, I would work with she was the worst one. Why she was planted in my world I will never know.