A sense of community and belonging is something that cannot be measured in monetary terms, it cannot be quantified by consultants and accountants through surveys and spreadsheets. However, it does have a great value, regardless of land and property prices.
Hands on Middlesbrough have hosted two successful events this month as part of the Discover Middlesbrough Festival which demonstrate the value of community:
On Saturday 22nd October, Hands on Middlesbrough volunteers in partnership with Ageing Better, Middlesbrough hosted Cannon Street Revisited at St Columba’s Church.
Before the event, there was a short service given by Father Stephen Cooper. In attendance were a dedicated congregation, who despite no longer living in the area (one family travel from Skelton), they still feel connected to “Cannon Street” and St Columba’s Church.
More than 50 years since Cannon Street was demolished, the strength of feeling from people who lived, worked and grew up there is something very special. It was one of the most successful events of the Discover Middlesbrough festival, with over 300 people turning out to share their memories and photographs of Cannon Street. The event featured a community exhibition, with images taken from the popular Facebook page Cannon Street Revisited and there were talks and screenings throughout the day. Photographs were scanned by volunteers from Hands on Middlesbrough which will form part of a digital archive, recording the residents of Cannon Street going back to the 1911 census which will be used for reminiscence therapy, family history and research.
The Cannon Street area was built between 1865 and 1882. Despite being built to accommodate workers from the Ironmasters’ District, the houses became family homes and a tight-knit community developed. The success of this community is obvious because although this part of town was demolished in the late 60s and early 70s due to poor living conditions, people still feel a sense of loss, not for the houses but for the community itself and a way of life. Cannon Street was a poor but hard-working community, well known for having over 60 independent businesses on one street. To be from Cannon Street meant to live or work on the street itself, one of the streets off it, to be connected to the community through family members or attending the churches and schools. They worked together, supported each other and built the foundations of a strong and successful community, of which they were proud to belong. Women took a pride in their neighbourhood, they scrubbed the doorsteps and pavements (even though it was not their responsibility) and were a support network for families who struggled with the pressures of poverty and everyday life. It was a place where the men worked hard physical jobs for very little, but many had a sense of pride in the town they helped to build. That pride is still there now and has passed to their families.
It was moving to see North East Film Archive and BBC North East film footage of an interview with Father Hooper projected onto the wall of the church where he was Priest for 35 years. He campaigned tirelessly for the council to rebuild the houses and not split up a tight-knit community. There was something very special about seeing him speak so passionately in front of some of the people he stood up for all those years ago. Father Hooper spoke about the “price of progress” and as a well respected man, he was the voice for others. He spoke eloquently about the value of community and why it’s value should not be underestimated when planning the town.
Our second event, ran by the Friends of Nature’s World in association with Middlesbrough Environment City, demonstrated the value of community interacting with wild, green space. Over 150 people came to our apple picking event at the Organic Heritage Orchard. The event was a diverse representation of the Middlesbrough community doing something free and simple with their families; picking apples which can then be made into something to eat and shared with family and neighbours.
People young and old got together and had fun. There were no bells and whistles, it was about being with nature on our doorstep (not everyone has access to a car to drive to the countryside) and the former Nature’s World site being used as a resource for families. Nature’s World was once described as “The North of England’s pioneering Eco-experience” – with an average of over 29,000 visitors a year.
The 26 acre site contained over 100 different interactive features and exhibits focusing issues such energy generation, recycling and re-using waste, organic gardening, green transport, bio-diversity and habitat conservation. Since the closure of the site most of the formal gardens, water bodies and woodland spaces have reverted back to nature.
Friends of Natures World are a dedicated group of volunteers who started working onsite in October 2014, and with the cooperation and assistance of Middlesbrough Council, aim to restore the features and maintain them for as long as they have permission to do so. Friends of Nature’s World aim to demonstrate that as a wild, green space it is as a valuable resource to residents of Middlesbrough. They run a number of community events each year to give people the opportunity be around nature and get actively involved in a range of activities.
The two events which ran in October, are prime examples of the value of community. It is something that cannot be measured in monetary terms but is felt by people who invest emotionally in where they live. That emotional investment can then act as a catalyst for people to get involved with a range of activities which benefit the local community.
Hands on Middlesbrough have a number of volunteers working on heritage projects, but are always in need of more.
If you enjoy working outside, Friends of Nature’s World would welcome you with open arms!
To get involved in either group (or both) please visit the “Contact us” page.