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Recession Road: Gosforth

Phil Coomes | 19:36 UK time, Wednesday, 16 September 2009

This post is from our Recession Road series, part of our special report on the global downturn.

The Great North Road in Gosforth

The unemployment figures out today made for depressing, and now all too familiar, reading. Behind every statistic is someone's life. Nearly six months ago urban designer Paul Bennison, 43, became one of the official 2.47m out of work after being made compulsorily redundant from a planning consultancy in Newcastle.

Paul emailed us with his story, and this afternoon we met for a cuppa on the Great North Road, which is near his home and just off the A1, in Gosforth.

Paul Bennison on the Great North Road in GosforthThe developers and housebuilders Paul's firm relied on were pulling back from projects they had planned as the recession hit, and he became one of 16 people put out of work in a round of redundancies.

"At first it was a hell of a shock and a knock to my confidence. At first you go through living hell thinking 'what am I going to do?'. But I am over that now. I am feeling relatively confident," he says.

A couple of opportunities are now in the pipeline - including an interview tomorrow in Carlisle - and he's hopeful one could lead to a job offer within the next few weeks.

"Luckily we have always lived well within our means," says Paul, who is married with two children aged eight and 10. He calls himself a "penny-pinching" Yorkshireman who had never got into the habit of living decadently.

And they are having to budget pretty carefully, with all the bills being reviewed and savings being moved around to try to maximise what they can get with current low interest rates. This term the children's school shoes were bought in discount shops, and a combination of Tesco hotel vouchers and camping made a summer holiday manageable.

As they have some savings Paul is on an income-related Job Seeker's Allowance which will stop soon, after he's been claiming for six months, he says.

To add to the constraints, before Paul became unemployed his wife Susan had taken voluntary redundancy from her job as a journalist with the Newcastle Chronicle, amid massive cutbacks in the media. She now earns a lower wage as a classroom assistant, and is planning to become a primary school teacher.

Paul would rather stay in Newcastle but the job search has taken his as far as Guernsey. Despite the relatively high salary on offer, the massive cost of living there meant he would have generated "horrendous" debts had he taken the job, he says.

"I really don't want to put my family into massive amounts of debt by selling our property here and moving, and having a massive mortgage again. It's not something that I want to do; it's something that I might have to do, but as a very, very last resort."

You can read an explanation of our Recession Road series here. Words: Paula Dear; Images: Phil Coomes.

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