Lee Halpin: 1986-2013

Lee Halpin (right) at Project Turnaround, BALTIC, November 2011

Lee Halpin (right) at Project Turnaround, BALTIC, November 2011

He was, as always, working on a project. Lee Halpin, 26 years old, asked his Facebook and Twitter friends on March 31st if someone could loan him a sleeping bag. And when you know everyone in Newcastle, and everyone knows and likes you, people respond. Instead of one sleeping bag, within 10 minutes Halpin was offered two.

Halpin, a friend of JesmondLocal, was in the middle of filming a documentary on Newcastle’s homeless when he died on the evening of April 3rd. The sleeping bag was to help him immerse himself in the story he was reporting; if his subjects were sleeping rough, so would he. That project typified his drive and his desire as a journalist to find a story that could change the world and correct an injustice. If there was a way for words, pictures or video to make a change and do some good, Halpin would be first in line reporting it.

Antsy fingers and a desire to help others

He was a mainstay in the region’s media and cultural scene, making friends wherever he went. With Kerry Kitchin, Halpin helped establish and grow Novel Magazine, an outlet for north east creatives that brought some of the vibrant independent press so typical of large cities such as London to Newcastle. It was born out of antsy fingers and a desire to help others.

“So many people on my [Creative Writing MA] course were producing writing of a brilliant standard and yet it remained stuck on their hard drives or tucked away in desk drawers,” he told the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts in 2011. “My hope is that people use this experience to go on and establish themselves a career.”

Running a magazine is no easy job, even with all the time in the world. Halpin managed to juggle it with a busy social life, a job at Northumbria University Student Union, and a weekly radio show at Radio Tyneside. Even then he managed to find extra time in the day to help out JesmondLocal as it produced Turnaround, its 48-hour magazine, at BALTIC in November 2011. But that was Halpin: always busy, always on a project, always there to help, always able to meet.


“Fictional worlds of tranquillity”

It had been that way since he was eight years old. In their childhood bedrooms, he and a friend created “fictional worlds of tranquillity”, an escape from the hectic life around them. And from that day on he kept writing, and didn’t stop: “if you don’t have the passion to find those extra hours, in the evening, or at the weekend, or at silly o’clock in the morning to churn out your writing,” he once said, “then I think you need to assess how serious you really are about being a writer.”

The writing helped him, too. In the editor’s foreword to the Autumn 2012 issue of Novel, Halpin admitted that reading and writing “has taught me much about myself and my own vanity. It has even led me to make significant changes.” For some writing is a means to an end; a way to make money. Halpin took it as a way to improve oneself, and the lives of those around him.

“A gentleman and a creative visionary”

“A gentleman and a creative visionary, when Lee wasn’t on Newcastle’s social circuit, or buried in his Moleskine, you could generally find him procrastinating on Facebook – a wordy wonderland when he was online,” says Dan Howarth, formerly of JesmondLocal. He was, Howarth explains, “a callipygian raconteur with a penchant for the sesquipedalian. The standard of Lee’s lexicon was rivalled only by his triceps – both of which I personally strive to emulate.”

Halpin’s drive, determination and creative energy played a big part in the success of JesmondLocal’s Turnaround, says Howarth. He was, to borrow a phrase from Hunter S. Thompson, “one of God’s own prototypes; too weird to live, too rare to die.”

Empathy and heart

Earlier this week, Halpin sat down in front of a camera. It was the night before embarking on his homelessness project. His aims were clear: he wanted to “immerse myself in that lifestyle as deeply as I can. I hope that you perceive this to be a fearless approach to a story. It certainly feels brave from where I’m sat right now.”

He looked off camera and paused for a moment before summing up. “That’s the impression I want to leave you with about my willingness to get to the heart of a story.”

As evidenced by his written work, and the people and causes he chose to highlight, Halpin knew the power of short sentences to make a big difference. We hope these few words of ours help his friends and family at this difficult time.

Lee Halpin: October 1st 1986 – April 3rd 2013

17 thoughts on “Lee Halpin: 1986-2013”

  1. Dolly Mix says:

    What a beautiful person. Newcastle has lost a diamond. He was so passionate about literature and loved a good battle rap. Although his life was cut short, he has left behind so many positive things to remember him by.

    We love you Lee. You’ll always be in our hearts.

  2. Jody Irving says:


    My name is Jody I am continuing the filming of this documentary and would appreciate any interviews with people that would be keen on articulating opinions about what Lee was trying to raise awareness about;
    bedroom tax
    wealth divide
    sleeping rough in the UK

    my email is

    [email protected]

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  5. Dean Sowden says:

    Lee was a prominent figure in my life.., i remember him as a caring and passionate young man who always had time for me on a personal level, he always had the right suggestions that got me over some dark times, i miss him terribly but i will always remember his wit..his smile..his hope that things will get better..and on a lighter note his dress sense…boy could that lad dress himself accordingly…!!!
    You will never be forgotten lee and i pray that god gives someone the strength to carry on your work.

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  8. Jeff Wilson says:

    I met Lee when he was studying the documentary film module at Newcastle University. Great guy with a massive yearning to learn, a ready smile and a generous nature. I’m stunned. He’ll be sorely missed. RIP mate. Jeff

  9. Vassilis says:

    Rest in Peace buddy…

  10. David Dixon says:

    This is a tragedy for Britain as is the subject that he was investigating. He should never be forgotten.

  11. Daniel O'Connor says:

    I did not know him but this guy is an inspiration. Rest in peace Lee.

  12. vdbranden says:

    his dead is proof how dangerous it is to sleep outside. is lack of help to endangered persons not a criminal offence?in belgium it is. the government should be prosecuted for it.hopefully his tragic dead will have consequences for the homeless and his dead will not have been in vain.
    too sad story

  13. Dawn says:

    What a beautiful obituary and a very special and caring your man. People who care so passionately about others is a rare thing indeed in these days of self interest. It must have been inspirational to have known him. My condolences to his friends and family.

  14. Frankie James says:

    What a loss, not just to the north east but to the whole country because surely someone like him would have made his mark. A huge tragedy for everyone, not personal as for his family and friends but, even here in the south his death has resonated with me in an unexpected way. I hope those who knew him will be able to continue the mission he was on for the good of literature and for the good of society. His spirit goes on somwhere, somehow.

  15. Ann Brennan says:

    What a dreadful loss Lee’s documentary would I am sure have highlighted how truly dreadful it is being homeless How anyone can think the”bedroom tax” is fair I do not know and I am pleased to see the documentary is to be continued by another. any maybe people will realise the financial divide between the rich and the poor in this country will end up like a third world country How about collecting thro’ “Just giving” in memory of Lee and benitting charities who help the homeless?

  16. Linda Breeze says:

    What a lovely obituary. I have been reading so much about Lee in the newspapers as well. I feel so shocked and angry that someone who is so talented and full of life should have his life taken away from him so young. It certainly has raised a lot of awareness of homelessness in Newcastle. It is shocking to hear that that there are a lot of homeless people on the streets. Newcastle City Council is supposed to be responsible for taking homeless people off the streets. They are responsible for a lot of things going on in Newcastle upon Tyne. Rest in Peace Lee Halpin.

  17. Mark Reeve says:

    It was great sadness I heard the news of Lee’s death and just hope that some good would come out of it as I’m sure Lee would hope, yet when reading the article on Page 5 of ‘The Times’ yesterday it seems that they could not help mention the fact that 2 men had been arrested for possessing class A drugs. It’s relevance doesn’t exist and the way it was ‘moulded’ into the story was the most pathetic piece of attempted sensationalism I have ever witnessed. It angers me intensely this guilty by association mentality, Homeless=drugs, laughing=Alcohol, etc etc My thoughts are with you all up there at the ‘Local’ and my condolences to his poor family. God bless. Mark Reeve (loosely associated with Denes Deli these days)

  18. Joanne St. John Ferris says:

    I wish he would have brought a buddy with him. He probably was so exausted from trying to sleep, he went into a very deep sleep. So sorry Lee, you will always be loved.

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