Rothbury man takes electric car adventure around 'left behind' communities

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Having crossed a continent by train and sailed around the world by container ship, Clive Wilkinson has always had a penchant for slow travel.

When his 80th birthday approached in 2018, he and his wife Joan set out from their Rothbury home on a new expedition: to tour the edges of England by electric car.

The tales of that 1,900-mile odyssey through fading seaside towns and rainswept hilltop passes – all the while consumed by worries about finding their next charging point –are captured in Charging Around.

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The book explores the reality of life on England’s periphery – the ‘left behind’ areas that, by voting for Brexit, changed the course of British history.

Clive and Joan Wilkinson with their electric car.Clive and Joan Wilkinson with their electric car.
Clive and Joan Wilkinson with their electric car.

"We bought an electric car in 2016 and it was about then that the government announced that electric cars would form the basis of its industrial strategy for the next few years,” recalled Clive.

"Then we had the referendum and most of the votes to leave the EU came from ‘left behind’ places so we thought we’d set out to explore some of England’s edges, find out what these forgotten communities are really like – and what the charging point infrastructure was like.”

Clive trained as a religious studies teacher and taught at a mission school in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) before returning to the UK, where he read geography at Newcastle University and undertook doctoral research on human migration in Lesotho. He spent nearly 20 years training geography teachers and environmental studies specialists.

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"With my interest in geography and my wife’s interest in history it seemed like the ideal adventure,” said Clive.

"We saw lots of communities that really have been ‘left behind’ in terms of poverty and economic development. The coal mining, shipbuilding and heavy engineering has disappeared and it’s taking a long time for them to recover.”

Their travels took them around Northumberland, starting off from Berwick and following the border along the Cheviots.

They found the charging point infrastructure ‘mixed’, although noting the improvements made since 2018.

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“When they worked it was brilliant but at times it is quite scary,” he admitted. “There were times when we barely got to the next charging point before running out of charge and other times when you get to a charging point and find it’s not working or already in use.

"That’s not so good if it’s pouring with rain and you’re a long way from a hot cup of coffee but we loved it most of the time.

"Over the past four or five years we know things have improved but it’s not the case everywhere. There are lots of new charge points along motorways and in towns and cities in the central axis of the country but that’s still not the case on England’s edges.”

Clive has previously written The Drop-Out Society, based on his own academic research into youth homelessness and unemployment in the North East of England, and Reflections from the Monkey Deck, an account of travelling the oceans by container ship.

Charging Around: Exploring the Edges of England by Electric Car by Clive Wilkinson is published by Eye Books on April 6. Price £9.99