Baltic is a sweet spot for stories and some of them turn up in surprising places.
If you’ve eaten in Six restaurant on the top floor, you’ll have enjoyed the food and the views. But did you notice the beehives?
There are two at present, not especially easy to spot and certainly unexpected. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the bees buzzing.
They are looked after by members of a group called North East Young Dads & Lads.
You might have seen mention of them in the ground floor exhibition, Equal Play, which is half playground, half documentation – or, as creator Albert Potrony explained, “a space for action and a space for reflection”.
Potrony, an artist with an interest in childcare and social issues, was commissioned by Baltic to create Equal Play and then introduced to North East Young Dads & Lads.
Their views on fatherhood are incorporated into the ‘reflection’ part of the exhibition which also features an early 1980s film of dads talking about their role.
It makes for an interesting juxtaposition. The 1980s dads, I can report, have nothing to say about honey.
Their contemporary counterparts, on the other hand, prove knowledgeable about this and other matters, as I know from meeting some of them in BalticFront Room.
Robert Oughton, Jed Donnelly, Jordan Pike and Jordan Richardson are all committed members of North East Young Dads & Lads.
All are dads, although the ‘lads’ bit of the name allows in young fathers-to-be and others who might benefit from the services of this Gateshead-based charity.
To be more specific, it is now a Baltic-based charity. It used to be in Dunston but one young dad happened to remark, after a session with Albert: “It’d be nice to have an office here.”
Luckily, and on very favourable terms, that is what they now have. And they have all sorts of plans, podcasting being one of them.
“We haven’t got an official podcast but we’re going to get proper microphones and set one up,” says Robert. “It’s going to be really nice.”
North East Young Dads & Lads was founded in 2015 by Kevin Stoodly after he discovered there was little support available for young fathers in the region.
He and other youth workers set out to learn what might be useful and now do all sorts of great work, offering practical advice, training and opportunities for socialising and mutual support.
The young men I meet speak warmly of the charity’s ability to boost confidence, help them be better fathers and tackle the stigma that often attaches to people in their position.
Jordan Richardson, at 23 the youngest of the group, became a dad at 15.
“I wanted to be involved but there were complications. Friends drifted away and I didn’t really leave the house. That’s when Kevin came in and helped me through it.”
Jordan sees his daughter now. She has nicknamed him ‘Captain Wow’ which I’m told could be the launchpad for a theatrical venture.
Robert, another father-of-one, chips in on his behalf.
“Over the course of the work with Albert we’d often bring our kids in and Jordan was really good at interacting with them.”
“I’m kind of the nanny of the group,” smiles Jordan. “I’m the spare dad so I look after everyone else’s kids.”
Jed, who became a dad last year but is stepdad to two other youngsters, came to the group after seeing a flyer. Mention of bees intrigued him.
Father-of-two Jordan Pike is one of the group’s beekeepers, working with Tom Jamieson who is the charity’s community beekeeper, accredited by the British Beekeepers’ Association.
“It’s kind of weird how it started, the bee project,” says Jordan Richardson.
“We used to go to the Staiths Café all the time and I’m sure it popped into Kevin’s head that selling honey there would be a good idea.”
The group now maintains some 22 hives across Gateshead, including the pair visible through the glass in Six.
“Sometimes we go up there to do checks and the people eating in the restaurant have the pleasure of watching us,” says Jordan Pike with a twinkle in his eye.
The story behind the Baltic hives, he adds, is that a staff member once installed one there but then left.
Tom says beehives must be properly located and while the Baltic roof might not seem ideal, it is in line with the natural places where bees like to forage because of its position in the Tyne gorge.
Honey from Baltic bees and their busy colleagues across the borough is sold in the Staiths Café and you will also find jars of it in the Level 3 exhibition by Fernando Garcia-Dory whose artistic practice incorporates art and nature.
If you visited over the Baltic Birthday Weekend, you might have been lucky enough to sample the product.
Honey and bees are good for the planet and tick every box in Baltic’s climate emergency-conscious mission statement.
North East Young Dads & Lads is more evidence of the art venue’s rootedness in the community, helping those who will also help others to be good and useful citizens.
You’ll find more about the charity at https://www.neydl.uk/