IN the friendly and elegant setting of Bishop Auckland Methodist Church hall, the conversation over lunch covered a range of subjects.

For starters, Brexit was considered to be an unholy mess – no surprise there.

It was also a disgrace that an American woman had returned home and been granted diplomatic immunity despite being a suspect in a fatal accident involving a 19-year-old motorcyclist in Northamptonshire.

Closer to home, the decline of the High Street in Bishop Auckland remained a cause for concern despite lots of positive developments around Bishop Auckland since philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer’s arrival.

Oh, and the volunteers in the kitchen had worked wonders with the buffet, not least the quite splendid cheesecake.

However, the overriding concern for the members of an admirable group called the Methodist Women in Britain was about raising enough money to pay for a classroom 7,000 miles away in Africa.

The Bishop Auckland and Shildon Circuit – part of the Darlington District – has just adopted COCO as its charity for the year ahead.

COCO was co-founded by athletics local hero Steve Cram, who is also the charity’s chairman, and its aim is to break the cycle of poverty by providing educational opportunities.

For example, children at Mercy Primary School in Mbita, Kenya, are studying in dangerous, temporary classrooms, made of corrugated iron, and COCO is aiming to provide five new classrooms at a cost of £42,500.

Members of the Darlington District of the Methodist Women in Britain are determined that, one way or another, they’ll raise enough to pay for one of those classrooms.

“We know how difficult it is for countries that don’t have enough money to provide these facilities for education, so we want to make a difference,” said District President June Anderson.

“We feel that we’ve grown up with Steve Cram, he’s from our part of the world, so we can identify with him,” added Gwen Morrison, who edits the group’s newsletter.

The ladies vote each year for their favoured charity, and alternate annually between a good cause in this country and one overseas. Last year, the Darlington District raised more than £7,000 for the Middlesbrough-based Halo Project, supporting victims of forced marriage and honour-based violence.

A host of fundraising activities are planned between now and next September, including the ladies being urged to don their hiking boots for the “Walk The Wall” sponsored walk along various lengths of Hadrian’s Wall on May 16.

Steve Cram has sent the ladies the following message: “Thank you so much. Your support is hugely appreciated and is typical of people here in the North-East.

“This assistance comes at a critical time for a major appeal that COCO has launched, on behalf of Mercy Primary School in Kenya.

“The school has had to pull down some temporary classrooms that were awaiting replacement and we urgently need to raise £42,500 to build five permanent classrooms, so that the students can get back to school and have the access to education that’s so vital for their future prospects.”

For my own part, it was a pleasure to be guest speaker – and to sample that cheesecake.

Like everyone else, I don’t know what the outcome of the Brexit debacle will be – but I’d make it a safe bet that the determined ladies of Darlington District of the Methodist Women in Britain will hit their target to pay for that classroom in Kenya.

n To find out more about COCO, go to To make a direct donation to the Mercy Primary School, go to

MORE good news concerning Steve Cram. He and partner Allison Curbishley are confirmed guests for the 20th anniversary of our Local Heroes Awards at Wynyard Hall on December 5.

Steve said: “I always do my best to attend the Local Heroes Awards – it’s a wonderful showcase for the many people in our region who are the collective heartbeat of grass roots sport. Thanks to The Northern Echo for shining a spotlight on so many inspirational people and organisations over the last 20 years. I’m looking forward to another amazing evening on December 5.”

No pressure there, then...

A BELATED happy birthday to another local hero, Middleham racehorse trainer Mark Johnston.

In my book, Johnston is arguably the region’s most successful sportsman, having trained more winners in Britain than any other trainer in history.

How sad then that he should have to put up with a Twitter twerp branding him “one of the most bent trainers in the business” over the running of a horse which didn’t perform up to expectations.

This was the record-breaking trainer’s forthright and perfectly justified reply: “Do ignorant morons like you ever consider the possibility that the horse may have been injured? Do you care for anything other than your own few quid? Why don’t you stick to betting on machines?”

Calling someone “bent” – in other words “corrupt” – is, of course, libellous. If a newspaper printed it, the publisher would almost certainly be sued.

And yet “keyboard warriors” are getting away with far too much abuse on the free-for-all that is social media.

Hit them where it hurts – in the wallet.

ON a lighter note, I know the weather’s been lousy lately but thank your lucky stars you don’t live in Guernsey.

Here’s the weather forecast last week from The Guernsey Press.

Hailstones are bad enough!

The Northern Echo: