2024 marks a historic year for the North East, with the upcoming election of a new regional mayor who will play a key role in shaping our region’s future.

That figurehead will lead a new combined authority that stretches across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, and Durham and will represent around two million people.

The multi-billion pound devolution deal negotiated with the Government for the North East hands the mayor significant funding and decision-making powers that the region has not held before, such as the ability to take public control over bus services.

Ahead of the mayoral election on May 2, we have asked all six candidates the same 10 questions to give voters a sense of both their policies and their personalities.

Here, the Green Party’s Andrew Gray discusses his passion for the North East history, plans to improve housing conditions, and his allotment.

Why should people care about the North East mayoral election?

 Because it’s an opportunity for decisions to be made by the North East and for the North East. Decisions that will impact housing, transport and skills training, with significant funding attached. And because it’s an opportunity for change. Current policies have not served the region well,and levelling up is failing. A new approach is needed, with a focus on the communities of the North East and our specific challenges around housing and transport.

If you could do one thing as mayor to improve people’s lives what would it be? 

Get as many cold homes insulated as possible, so that people can save money on fuel bills, be more secure in their home and feel more able to play a positive part in their neighbourhood. And it will cut our use of carbon at the same time.

What is your favourite place in the North East, and why? 

Plot 25 on Iris Brickfield allotments, which I share with 5 others. There can be nowhere better at this time of year, seeing the overwintering beans thriving, cabbage seedlings growing, flowers and herbs sprouting and frogspawn in the pond. Listening to a blackbird singing in the evening is the best way to recharge during the election campaign.

What is (or was) your day job outside of politics? 

I am an archivist, working mainly with historic records from the bishops of Durham and related collections. These extend from Norham to Northallerton. They date from the 1090s, but relate as much to the present day as to the past – to our rights of way, the fisheries off South Shields, the houses many of us live in. The stories within some of the documents are special, but the best part of the job has to be supporting the students at the university and the researchers from our local communities. 

What is your proudest achievement in your political career so far? 

Helping to throw out proposals from Newcastle City Council that would have criminalised any homeless people sitting with bedding in our city. Their proposed Public Spaces Protection Order in 2016 would have criminalised anyone in the city who is sitting or walking with bedding, characterising this as “aggressive begging.” By working with Liberty and other campaign groups, launching an online petition, making a formal submission to the consultation and holding a street protest, we were able to get the order significantly amended, with the “bedding” clause thrown out.

Other than becoming the North East Mayor, what would your dream job be?

Representing my neighbours as their elected councillor – what higher honour could there be? Being able to make changes where it matters, showing that my own neighbourhood can be a role model in sustainability and resilience for others to follow, working on collective approaches to solve local problems.

Who is your role model in life? 

John Woolman (1720-1772), an American Quaker and early campaigner for the abolition of slavery. He gave up a high flying business career in order to live more simply. Woolman was my inspiration for going part-time about 25 years ago – not that my career in archives could ever have been called high flying!

If you could ban one thing in the North East, what would it be? 

Mayoral government. We deserve devolution of powers and funding for the North East, without having a mayor imposed on us. Concentrating power in a single individual is bad for democracy. Grand schemes and vanity projects are good for a mayor’s ego, but do little for ordinary residents and won’t deliver the thriving, sustainable communities we need. The government is forcing us to have a North East mayor as part of the devolution deal. We can ensure that we elect one who is focused on the whole region, not on themselves..

If you could erect a statue somewhere in our region, who would it commemorate? 

Matilda Burgh and Margaret Usshar. They were two servants who challenged the authority of the monks of Durham, by daring to enter the shrine of St Cuthbert in the cathedral. Women were not allowed to approach the shrine. In 1417, they travelled from Newcastle and entered the cathedral, dressed as men, in order to access St Cuthbert’s shrine. They were made to do penance at All Saints church, but I hope this didn’t curb their rebellious spirit. Thank you Matilda and Margaret for showing determination, using imagination and standing up to misogyny. You deserve recognition after 600 years.

If you didn’t win the mayoral election, which of the other candidates would you most like to win? 

Whichever candidate is good at stealing my best policies and adding them to their own manifesto for a fairer, greener, more equal and forward looking North East.