Hands on Middlesbrough were recently interviewed by The Independent about the plans for houses on the grounds of Acklam Hall, Middlesbrough’s only Grade I listed building.
The story also focused on Middlesbrough residents standing up against the “smoggie” stereotype to protect what makes Middlesbrough a special and desirable place to live.
According to dialectologist Vic Wood, the word “smoggy” or “smoggie” originated on the football terraces as a term of abuse towards Middlesbrough supporters from Sunderland fans. It is also in reference to Middlesbrough’s dominant petrochemical industry and pollution. Sociolinguists argue that the word “smoggie” has been reclaimed as an acceptable, even desirable slang label connected with a sense of regional identity. By embracing the word apparently it can bind a community together. My own personal view is that the word does nothing but promote a negative representation of Middlesbrough and its residents. The constant “smoggie” and “it’s grim up north” references about a town full of “chavs”-obese, lazy, alcoholic criminals who would sell their own mother for a chicken parmo and statistics that are quite frankly made-up (95% of the population don’t exercise!) just reinforces ignorance and prejudice towards a town on the “rust belt” which has its fair share of social and economic problems. Just like the word “Chav” as investigated by Owen Jones in his book Chavs: The demonization of the working class, “smoggie” is similar in how it is used to insult and ridicule people from Middlesbrough and allows a justification for widening inequality.
It is about time the residents of Middlesbrough stood up for themselves and rejected this rubbish.
Sometimes, even local media reinforce this stereotype. With articles about parmo hotdogs or some such thing making headlines. Its a shame to think that the things that make Middlesbrough a great place to live often go unnoticed. As residents of this town we perhaps need to say enough is enough with the derogatory comments about why we are “inferior” to the rest of the country and promote what is good about our town.
Enough with accepting that houses on every available green space is “the only game in town” or the “only option” to raise funds to restore a listed building. Middlesbrough Town Hall, which is only a Grade II* listed building recently applied for Heritage Lottery funding-would the decision makers in Middlesbrough council consider building 56 executive homes on the green space next to that to fund its restoration?
Places like Acklam Hall (circa 1683) left to fall into disrepair for years, so much so that in 2010 it ended up on the English Heritage At Risk List. That whole surrounding area of Devils Bridge, Avenue of Trees, Acklam Hall pond is beautiful green space, treasured by the local community. Sadly, Acklam Hall was regarded as a liability and not an asset, by Middlesbrough Council and Middlesbrough College, it would seem. Despite the hall’s historical significance and medieval archaeology, the high restoration costs meant that the council & college decided development of the site would be the best option.
If like me, you chose to stay in Middlesbrough, rather than “escaping” to pastures new (which most of my friends have done) then we need to make sure we don’t go along with the view that to live in Middlesbrough is to somehow underachieve. We need to be proud of our town and work together to protect what we have, while we still have it and create our own opportunities here. Forget attracting the wealthy in with executive homes. Let them stay in Ingleby Barwick or Great Ayton if they are happy there, think about what the people who live in Middlesbrough want. Seems to me a real issue for people is a continual disrespect or disregard for the towns heritage and green space.