Monthly Archives: September 2014

Discovering Teessides Cultural Scene

Teesside has creativity and culture coming out of its ears. But it seems only a few people know about it. Just like many other great things happening in the region, it is hidden, underground and away from the main-stream. This is probably one of its greatest strengths but also its biggest weakness. The sector has this gritty grassroots edginess, a non-commercialised character and a group of passionate people connected to it, giving their all and usually living off less than a minimum wage just for the love of it. But these people are also often on their own, unknown, undiscovered, disconnected and disillusioned. Our artists live down dark alleys, in empty office blocks, in the back of old pubs or the corner of some quirky coffee shop.

Our artists live down dark alleys, in empty office blocks, in the back of old pubs or the corner of some quirky coffee shop.

Yes some of them make it to the what’s on guide of the Georgian Theatre or walls of Arc but for the most part they are hidden.

When I started my Teesside regeneration journey, I went first to the churches and then I went to the artists. I remember walking into a conversation in The Georgian Theatre organised by some cultural activists from Leeds. I was pleasantly surprised to find around 60 artists and cultural practitioners there, all passionate about our region, about culture and about creativity. For years they had been finding ways to exist and create and perform amongst the backdrop of recession, austerity and apathy.

I was excited about this underground world I had discovered and wanted to find a way to shine a light on it and to show them that Stockton loved them. I started a blog and social media movement called www.ilovestockton.me. Using on-line platforms, the idea was to celebrate the richness of our cultural and creative activities and get people talking about and engaging with it a little more. It began to take off; people started following us and liking and hashtagging us and a buzz began about our town. But in all honesty, there was too much to write about.

Currently there are so many activities happening that I could do with some help. Last month I discovered Keren & Bobbie, two Teesside Uni graduates students putting on art shows in unusual spaces. They’ve now opened up their own Gallery, ‘House of Blah Blah’ in Middlesbrough which launched its new exhibition last night. This month I met Laura from ‘Writers Block’ who supports writers to improve their craft and reconnected with Stephen Irving who is discovering new and emerging urban artists from around the region.

IMG_2996

I know if the whole of Teesside gets behind our creatives, maybe we could really put these people and this place on the map. I’d like people to come with me on this journey of cultural discovery. Go visit an art gallery, book to see a play, buy some local art, take part in a poetry workshop. Use your facebook and twitter and instagram to big it up and maybe together we can make Teesside’s cultural light shine brighter.

My Reflections on Bereavement and Love

The last month has been really hard. I suffered the bereavement of two people close to me. The first was David Zikhali, a close family friend who had been involved in a tragic drowning accident on the River Tees. The second was my Grandma, the lady who brought me up. She was 89 and had been suffering with dementia for maybe five years. Her body and mind finally gave up on the 19th August.

grandma montage

Both deaths were very painful; my Grandmas, particularly so, as we were so close, but Davids was also hard as he was so young, having only just turned 20, a month or so earlier.  As I have walked this journey of loss, I have been reflecting on a few things.  I never imagined how I would cope when Grandma died.  She was my rock, my best friend and I loved her so ridiculously much.  I always wondered when it would happen, often feeling that we were on borrowed time and when she did go, it was horrendous.  The pain is indescribable, like someone is taking away something from inside your heart. I cried and I cried and I cried, but then I stopped crying and I realised, I was not on my own.  In amongst my grief, something very powerful happened, I discovered yet again the power of love and community.

As soon as I heard about grandma dying, I went home to our family house, the house where i had been brought up, where Grandma lived for the last 35 years and where she finally ended her days.  My Mum, Aunty and four of my siblings were already there.  As soon as i got to the house, I wept.  My little youngest brother Jazz held me in his arms.  We don’t hug very often usually but for a few minutes I just cried on his shoulder.  This was the pattern of the day and the next few days.  Family would arrive and we’d cry and then we would talk and make tea.  I have drank a lot of tea over the last few weeks.  Friends began to send kind words of encouragement; messages  on Facebook; cards, flowers and phone calls were received. Many conversations were had about how wonderful Grandma was and what we would miss about her. It has been a long time since I felt so united with my family and cared for by my friends. In amongst our grief, this power of love and community shone through. I can’t convey how much this helped at such a tragic time.

When David died it was very similar. From the moment David died, this love and togetherness was so evident.  Day after day many people visited the site where he had drowned, over 100 people, young and old gathered for a night vigil, his mother opened up her home for visitors to share their grief and many, many people used social media to share their hearts. Within all of these activities we told stories of David, about who he was, how kind he was, why he might have died and what we would miss about him. We grieved collectively and it helped, a lot.

But all of this has now got me thinking. What would society look like if we were all more connected or more together, not just at times of tragedy but all the time? It’s rare for people to have open homes for anyone to pop round. We don’t often gather regularly and share stories, sorrows, news or thoughts. We rarely message someone on Facebook just to say we are thinking of them or that we care. On the whole, people tend to keep “themselves to themselves” but maybe this needs to change? Aren’t community and relationships vital to not only our own personal development but also the survival and developments of our towns and streets and villages? Don’t we need each other? There are too many influences dividing our society at the moment, but maybe we can make a stand. Maybe we can do things differently. Lets make more space in our lives for each other, for our neighbors and for our friends. I know my Grandma always loved a visitor who would just pop round unplanned for a cup of tea, maybe have a think about who you could visit this week. Who could you spend a little more time with? I was so glad to have made space in my life for Grandma and I am now so thankful for all the people who have made space for me over these last few weeks as I have had to say goodbye. 

If you have any thoughts about this, I would love to hear them and if you are going through pain and tragedy I hope you are not alone, if you are please message me.

Jessie