AFTER 17 years, it is with a heavy heart that I have decided to step down as editor of The Northern Echo at the end of this month.

Growing up in the North-East, it became my ambition to be a reporter for the “Great Daily of the North” but I never imagined that I would end up as its longest-serving editor.

When I joined the staff in 1984 - after a three-year “apprenticeship” on the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph - I was both thrilled and terrified. When I became editor 15 years later, inheriting one of the most talented and committed editorial teams in the regional press, it was one of the proudest days of my life.

It has been an enormous privilege to sit in the editor’s chair over such a long and challenging period, during which the media industry has undergone enormous change.

There have been many highlights, plenty of mistakes, lots of laughter and quite a few tears along the way but I will always be immensely grateful for the opportunity I was given and for the incredible support of my family, colleagues and The Northern Echo’s wonderfully loyal readers.

I’ll take most pride from the successful campaigns which the Echo team has fought in recent years, especially raising money to help build the Butterwick Children’s Hospice, banging the drum to bring the Hitachi train-building factory to County Durham, and cutting heart bypass waiting times after the death of friend and colleague Ian Weir who waited eight months for an operation.

However, with my 54th birthday approaching, the time feels right to hand over to someone new. It is no secret that these are difficult times for the regional press and it needs someone with fresh ideas and energy to take the paper – and its rapidly-growing website – into a new era.

Although I am relinquishing the responsibility of being editor, I am delighted that I will continue to write for The Northern Echo and to represent the paper in the community. I’ll miss the cut and thrust and the camaraderie of the newsroom but I’m also looking forward to having time to pursue other interests, including my work as a children’s author.

The Northern Echo has been a hugely important part of my life and I have no doubt that will continue to be the case - just in a different way.

Thank you to everyone who has made the past 36 years so memorable.

Most of all, thank you to my wife, Heather, and our children Christopher, Hannah, Jack and Max for their love and understanding - and for tolerating being written about in my Dad At Large column over the past 25 years.