PROTESTERS descended on Hexham’s Tyne Green on Saturday for Tynedale’s first anti-racism demonstration.

Hexham Against Racism - Action Group led proceedings with members of the crowd hearing powerful testimonies from North-East figureheads, such as the sheriff and deputy lord mayor of Newcastle, Coun. Habib Rahman, who is the only British Muslim to hold office in the North-East, as well as Chantal Herbert, a representative from the Angelou Centre which supports women of the BAME community in Newcastle, and Tyne Valley residents.

The group was created in response to a contentious post on the Hexham Matters Facebook page which called for a Black Lives Matter protest in the town following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA.

The post, which was later deleted by administrators, attracted more than 1,000 comments.

The demonstration focused on education and discussion, coming to a close with a Black Lives Matter chant and a vow for future events "to the ends of supporting racial equality and justice in the Hexham constituency."

Speaking at the event, organiser Reece Connolly said: "Today is a declaration: Hexham stands against racism. Now the conversation is being had, and we - together - won't let it be silenced, or contradicted or undermined. This will not be a one-off, this is a long-term subscription and a lifetime commitment. Whatever our colour, culture or beliefs, this is our home, so let's make it the best it can be."

Hundreds of people also heard an emotional account of a mixed race woman’s horrifying experiences of racism in the Tyne Valley.

Tynedale resident, Maria Angela Roy, shared her story of living in Hexham as a person of mixed race, saying: "We had been in our new home not six months when I had my first encounter with a racist neighbour. I asked to use my parking space, that he’d parked in for months, without any complaints from me, so that I could unload a bed frame from my car. He was enraged, not because he had to move his car, but because a “foreigner” had asked him, “a white man”, to move his car. He said foreigners like me don’t belong here and we wouldn’t be here long. He told me he was going to burn my house down with my daughter inside.

“All I wanted to do was get back inside my house - my safety - where my daughter was playing and to close the door to protect her from hearing or seeing what was happening. But he stood in the way, making his threats so close that I could feel his breath on my face.”

She added: “My body is scared and broken from these attacks. My mind is tired, my hopes for a better world depleting. If I’m honest, I’m scared to hope too much, but I will always keep taking those moments where people have a little awaking.

“My life and that of my daughter’s has been threatened here due to our skin colour and nothing more. Now when I leave my house in this beautiful area, I am not taking in the picturesque village, I’m looking for escape routes - where I can quickly put my two-year-old daughter so she is out of harm’s way.

“Gardens that have gates and walls that she can’t climb over or open. Maybe I’ll have time to hide her so she is safe while I am being beaten?

“Is the person who finds her going to be good? Racism before I was a mother was heartbreaking. Now, unbearable. My body can only protect her for so long - I need you to help change our world.”

Police in attendance were not required as the demonstration remained peaceful.