12 years ago I set up a charity to reach At-Risk women and young people and over that time, we played a role in transforming a number of lives. The challenge I began to wrestle with a few years ago though was that for every girl we reached, every family we helped restore, every young person who found a better future; the same problems still existed within the borough, the town and region still had problems and even though we were seeing lives regenerate, the places within our communities were not changing. One particular place that seemed to typify this was Stockton High Street. The high street had been in decline for over 20 years and gradually, the shops closed, business failed, the paint peeled off the windows and the signs came down. People who would once have been frequent visitors of the high street stopped coming and the place generally felt like it had lost hope. So I began to ask the question “What would Stockton look like if it was loved?”
I took my question to the churches, then the community groups, businesses, I posted it on facebook and twitter, I began a blog, asked the film makers, the musicians and the creative people.
The answers began to come in.. People said things like, “it would look like a town that is thriving”, “a town that is growing”, “a town that is living and not dying”. “People would begin to visit the high street, to see what is happening, to shop there, eat there, do business there, socialise there”. “faith would be vibrant, the church would be on the high street” “Creative’s would find work”, “young people would find hope”, “we’d have a skate park”, “we’d have things for families to do”. “People would be healthier” “They’d drink less” “The pubs would be busier”, “It would be a place where musicians gather, artists reside and media businesses thrive”. “We could be a Camden Town of the North with a famous market” “We could have live music in the streets, comedy in the pubs” “Stockton could be transformed”.
The answers were amazing, but my next question was this “So what would it look like if “You” loved Stockton? “What could you do to love the town?” You see, through 12 years of running a charity, I came to realise one thing. This town won’t change unless we are all a part of making it change. The journey towards transformation of a place has got to be about mobilisation of the people of that place, to be the difference, to be the change they want to see. Things began to spring up from that initial question, people started getting active and groups started to emerge. Now I’ve got more time, I’m getting out there again, engaging with communities to ask them what change would you like to see in your community? When they are unhappy, angry, inspired or passionate about something, I am then asking so what can you do?
So far it seems to be working, people are beginning things again and its all quite exciting. If you want to follow these stories, make sure you subscribe and if you are inspired, angry or passionate about something yourself, why not get in touch, maybe you can do something?