She lives among the olive groves of Italy - but what does this former Wearside woman miss most about Sunderland?

Greg and Sandra sitting outside their Italian farmhouse bed and breakfast.
Greg and Sandra sitting outside their Italian farmhouse bed and breakfast.
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A stone farmhouse, ancient olive groves and the beautiful Italian countryside – it’s all part of the life of a former Sunderland woman.

But although Sandra Laws may have moved to pastures new, she will never forget her proud roots as a “former Farringdon lass.”

Binns is one of the things Sandra misses the most.

Binns is one of the things Sandra misses the most.

And today, she kindly shares her story with Wearside Echoes.

When Sandra asked her parents if they would pay for a school trip to visit Italy, she never imagined she would eventually move there.

Sandra, now in her sixties, was the daughter of the late Arthur and Ada Laws. Arthur, a former telephone engineer, is still fondly remembered as one of the founders of Farringdon Social Club.

During his time as concert chairman he hosted celebrities such as Roger Whittaker, Freddie Starr,

I miss the Sunderland Echo (where family always bring us a copy), Binns department store, launchings of the SD14, stotty cakes, Milburns, Ibbotsons dips, fish and chips from Grasswell, Saltgrass, Ivy House and The Barnes just to name a few

Sandra Laws

Tom Jones, as well as Gerry and the Pacemakers, and Engelbert Humperdinck.

Her parents agreed to pay for the trip to Italy and, in around 1966, Sandra and a handful of other Farringdon Secondary School pupils and teachers embarked on a coach excursion.

Soon, they were exploring cities such as Venice, Pisa, Florence and Rome and for Sandra, it had a lasting impression on her life.

After leaving school, Sandra worked in clerical roles at Bartrums Shipyard, Forsters Forge, Coles Cranes and finally became a telephone operator at Sunderland telephone exchange.

Sandra in her  primary school days at Thorney Close.

Sandra in her primary school days at Thorney Close.

She soon married and had two lovely girls. Sadly, the marriage did not last and Sandra moved to Houghton-le-Spring.

Later, she met a Business Studies undergraduate from Sunderland University (then Sunderland Polytechnic) and eventually married Greg.

Greg spent one year working at Haskel Energy Systems on North Hylton Road and then returned to complete his final university year. Sandra worked in Pallion for Bonas Machine Co eventually becoming responsible for shipping the firm’s looms throughout the world.

The couple with daughters decided to embark on a new life, moving to Lincolnshire where Sandra soon became employed using her legal skills.

Greg worked in sales and marketing and had the chance to visit Bologna and Milan on business. He took along Sandra.

It was a dream come true for her to re-visit the Italy she had visited in her schooldays.

Several more business trips meant Sandra could re-trace her steps in Venice.

The birth of their son created an opportunity to begin their own marketing services firm. Sandra worked every hour with husband Greg to develop the business but it took its toll and after many years both were completely exhausted and became ‘burnt out’.

Greg re-trained as a college lecturer and teacher passing his skills and experiences on to students and Sandra began to spend more time enjoying life and doing one thing she enjoys the most – meeting people.

But a television programme featuring Le Marche in central Italy brought back memories of a beautiful unspoilt and romantic Italy in the 1960s and later in the 1980s.

In 2001, the couple sold their cottage before buying an ancient stone farmhouse with olive groves in Le Marche in 2002.

Once Greg had finalised his teaching duties the couple moved to Italy in 2004, and have remained ever since. The children had grown up and chose to stay in the UK.

After renovating most of the house themselves, they obtained approval from the Italian authorities to run it as a bed and breakfast and began welcoming guests in 2007 and soon afterwards also began exporting their olive oil.

Ironically, A Place in the Sun Magazine (the official magazine of the TV series Sandra had watched) decided to run a four page article in their autumn 2018 issue about the couple’s Italian life.

Sandra added “I still have lots of family in and around Sunderland and a number of them have come to stay with us.”

Asked what she misses about “Canny aad Sunlu”, she replied, “Sunderland Echo (where family always bring us a copy), Binns department store, launchings of the SD14, stotty cakes, Milburns, Ibbotsons dips, fish and chips from Grasswell, Saltgrass, Ivy House and The Barnes just to name a few.”