Neil Sharp (1947-2024) – “May his legacy continue to inspire us all”

Neil Sharp was a well-respected representative of NATFHE, one of the predecessor unions of UCU. He not only stood up for the membership of the union – he represented the whole of the profession and the very idea of further education.

Neil worked in FE Colleges in different parts of the country, including Poole Technical College and Bournemouth & Poole College, but it was his time at Newcastle College in the northeast where he made his mark. Neil was one of the senior figures in the union branch during the disputes which followed the incorporation of colleges in the 1990s, and he was Vice-Chair and then Chair of the NATFHE Branch during the disputes in the 2000s. He steered the union through some difficult times and represented all the staff on the Governing Body of Newcastle College, comfortably topping the poll every time.

Neil Sharp in the centre of NATFHE pickets in December 1989, Newcastle College – in front of Parsons Building


Jon Bryan, who was NATFHE Secretary when Neil took up his Officer positions in the Branch, describes what he was like:

“Neil was one of those people who you would stop and listen to when he spoke. While some people might rightly describe him as being quiet, he expertly chose the right moments to make a particular point. And when he raised his voice, you knew that he was making a serious contribution which deserved your full attention.”

“There were times when his intervention and thoughtful approach would be able to steer a conversation or a meeting in the right direction, having considered a different angle to the same problem and eloquently outlining the issues and a possible solution.”


Neil Sharp and Jon Bryan on a picket line at Newcastle College (2005)


In 2000/1, Newcastle College decided to dismiss lecturing staff from their contracts and re-employ them on worse ones. Both NATFHE and UNISON took strike action and managed to reach agreements on jobs and contracts. Neil was a key part of the union committee during this time. Four years later, when the same Executive team decided to do it again, the union once again balloted for industrial action and members were involved in a significant number of strikes. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, and the college continued to pursue a path of dismissal and re-engagement.

The process ran its course. Dismissal notices were issued, but Neil (who was now Branch Chair) decided to take a personal stand. He would not sign a contract that had not been agreed with the trade union. Neil was subsequently dismissed from his contract of employment and left Newcastle College in January 2006.

Neil did not go without a fight. He took full advantage of the opportunity to make personal (and verbal) representations to the Principal, prior to a decision being made to dismiss him. While he knew that this process was unlikely to be successful, he was determined to make his point and to tell them what he thought.

Neil Sharp at the front of a national NATFHE March in Birmingham for Fair Funding for FE, with Kathy Taylor (past President), Idwal John, Dave O’Toole, Jon Bryan, and many others

Jon Bryan comments:

“I accompanied Neil through his individual consultation. I recall him commenting on the Master-Slave basis of the contract of employment, pointing out that the new and increasing number of ‘asks’ from the employer had just become too much. I’ll always remember how cutting his remarks were on the type of employer that Newcastle College had become. ‘Benevolent slave-owners are still slave owners’ he stated to the Principal in the meeting, underpinning the way in which the balance in the contract had become far too skewed towards the employer. It was clear to everyone in the room that his remarks had landed in the way in which he intended.”


Neil Sharp (amongst Northern Region delegates) at NATFHE Annual National Conference (2006) where he was given life membership of the union

Neil pursued his case, with the union’s support, through the Employment Tribunal. The detail is unknown, but Neil would always say that he was happy with the resolution.

To mark his service to the union, Neil attended NATFHE Annual Conference in 2006 to receive honorary life membership in front of the whole of the union body. For all that he had done for staff in further education, he deserved that recognition.


Neil Sharp, with many others, at NATFHE Annual National Conference


“We stand on the shoulders of people like Neil. May his legacy continue to inspire us all. My sincere condolences to his family and ex-colleagues.”

Lawson Armstrong, Regional Official, UCU Northern


Funeral details and a link for donations in Neil’s memory:


Tributes to Neil Sharp

Neil… someone I will not forget. A much liked and respected friend and colleague.

Chris Watts


I remember the very first time I saw Neil. He was chairing a NATFHE branch meeting at Newcastle College where I had just started working. It was a large meeting and we were in the middle of a contract dispute. It was a difficult time for staff but Neil conducted the meeting calmly and with authority like the committed and experienced NATFHE officer he was. He gave everyone in that meeting confidence at a very worrying time, made sure that we were all fully informed and that everyone had their say. I did not know then, that Neil would become a good friend and close colleague. Later, when I was encouraged to join the union committee, Neil provided advice and support as I took up the position of chair myself. I have a great deal to thank Neil for. I won’t forget him easily.

Dave O’Toole


He was a truly wonderful friend and colleague.

Gill Banks


Neil was on the panel that interviewed and appointed me to my first full-time job as a Lecturer in Sociology. I was hugely intimidated by the team and their experience, especially Neil’s extensive knowledge of Sociology. However, I had nothing to worry about. He was the most supportive, understanding, and friendly colleague I could have wished for. I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him.

Kay Murray


I first met Neil Sharp at Newcastle College. I was new in my role as Senior Manager in the Sixth Form, and it was during a particularly tough time. I heard everything about the difficult, stubborn, and militant NATFHE Chair and Secretary. My then line manager gave me responsibility for the area that they both worked in: Sociology, Philosophy and Politics. I thought OMG… I remember my first departmental meeting with them. Neil was calm, articulate, intelligent and most importantly student centred. He cared about the students. He was kind, considerate and to my surprise welcoming and helpful.  I thought at the time I must have the wrong guy; this isn’t the person Executive had warned me against. Neil was always available for a quiet chat and gave me warm words of encouragement as a new manager at the College. Neil epitomised wisdom. They say never to judge a book by its review, and I am glad to say that there were tomes of knowledge and information held within his pages. When he left Newcastle College, I attended his leaving do. The bar was full of people with a lifetime of servitude to education. Neil to me was an inspiration as a teacher, a leader and a human being. I am so much richer for knowing him, and so much sadder for this loss.

Chris Webb


I knew Neil through his work as a NATFHE Rep at Newcastle College. Neil was working in an environment highly hostile to trade unionism. He did that role in a highly principled way. When told he had to sign a new inferior contract or be dismissed, he refused to sign and was duly dismissed. Neil worked hard for the members and was very effective in very challenging circumstances. I haven’t seen Neil since the pandemic and only infrequently since his time at the college. But I always found Neil to be very good company, supportive of other union reps and to be committed to his role as a teacher. My condolences to Neil’s family. RIP.

Iain Owens


Sad news about Neil – what a great bloke. I remember his wise counsel and good sense of humour.

Dave Howe


During my early years as a lecturer and NATFHE/UCU branch officer at Newcastle College, Neil was our Branch Chair. It was a difficult time with a union-busting management. Neil dealt with this with courage and humour, comradely solidarity, and a wide smile. Rest in peace comrade.

Vanessa Maughan


I remember Neil as a very gentle, warm person who always made you feel at ease.  Although I never knew him as a teacher, I imagine he would have been popular.  I did know him as a trade union activist, and I admired him for his calm demeanour and his determination to do the best for members and support fellow reps.  Neil was principled and believed strongly in workers’ rights.  I admired his courage in standing up against an intransigent and bullying management. He showed that you can’t just run roughshod over people.  I will remember Neil with great affection and respect.

Joyce McAndrew


My condolences to Neil’s family – too many of us are going too soon.

Paul Mackney


I knew Neil as a colleague in NATFHE: he was at Newcastle College when I was at Gateshead College. My main contact with him was in his role as a staff governor. Neil was exactly the kind of person that you want in that position. He was knowledgeable and articulate, while also possessing a confidence that enabled him to fully participate in the requirements of being a governor. In addition to resolutely championing the interest of his fellow staff members, he could also recognise the wider responsibilities of Boards of Governors. During the period that I knew him, the late 1990s and early 2000s, that dual responsibility challenged staff governors severely, due to the constant upheavals in Further Education. Neil relished the task and was able to discharge his duties in an exemplary manner – his regular re-election to the position was a testament to the approval of his colleagues. Finally, I want to record that Neil was a friendly, helpful and cheerful man. His character and friendship helped many of us through difficult times. We will remember him with great fondness.

Idwal John


Neil was so kind, so reasoned, so determined to do the right thing. He took a stand above and beyond and showed his integrity. The world is a poorer place without him.

Alison Heywood-Hill


Neil taught me almost 40 years ago. His ceaseless and unselfish support helped me to grow as a person. I was a mature student returning to study on an adult access course in the evenings. I developed new skills and gained confidence in every subject that I tackled. I will always be grateful for the advice and guidance Neil gave me. He brought out the very best in me. His teaching was relaxed, informative, and always stimulating. RIP Neil.

Tony Heron


Neil taught me in what must have been one of his final years at College. I adored his lessons – full of wit, enthusiasm and real knowledge. I thoroughly looked forward to seeing him each and every week. He really had the gift of engaging learners in all that we explored. A lovely man and a fantastic teacher. Thanks for making a real difference, Neil.

Scott Wilson


I knew Neil when I was a student at Newcastle College. A kind, thoughtful and principled man. I’m very sad to hear of his passing. My condolences to Neil’s family and friends. He will be sorely missed.

Mo Lovatt


I worked for many years with Neil at an exam board. A thoroughly professional man with high ethical standards and a great sense of humour. He was very well respected as an examiner. Proud to have known him.

Keith Trobe


Neil was always lovely, supportive and friendly and most of all I remember his big beaming smile. RIP Neil

Sidra Rizvi


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