As we reach the midway point in the project I wanted to reflect on the journey so far. As part of my role as Creative Director of What’s On Your Mind? I have been conducting consultations with the community of Stockton, the people who live here and the groups that ARC already have a dialogue and a relationship with. I wanted to find out how they feel right now, coming out of the pandemic, “or are we?” as one resident pointed out suspiciously.
I have had so many good conversations over the past month, some of them challenging and some of them emotional. I have listened to stories of struggle and hope and community. I have learned a lot about people’s experiences and also how resilient people can be. But for some people the conversations have sparked anger at what they feel are inequalities that people are facing right now. They feel that the game has been rigged somehow to keep the poorest people poor and make the richest people even richer. There is a strong sense of injustice and real fear of what is to come.
Today I spent some time at a community garden that had been made from the rubble of a derelict church. Transformed by residents bit by bit to create a space that not only welcomes everyone but also nourishes the community with therapeutic activity and feeds people by sharing produce. I also heard about the eco cafe and shop. Five items for a £1 so not a food bank, but a lifeline for those losing their Universal Credit uplift. This was a place of positivity, laughter and solidarity. It had been a shining light for many during the pandemic and it will continue to grow and thrive into the future I have no doubt after meeting the dedicated team of volunteers who are making it happen.
“The man across the road gave us some mint and another neighbour dropped off some wooden pallets” one volunteer tells me. They like that it’s improved what was a derelict bit of land and they enjoy looking out for it. Watching the activity happen, watching it grow. Even the vandals haven’t touched it. “It’s our safe place.”
In another setting people have been reluctant to share their views in front of others in the consultation and would much rather write something down in a piece of paper anonymously and avoid a debate. People’s views are polarised and this feels very heightened even between neighbours. Whether the conversation be about climate change, Covid, the plans for Stockton town centre. People’s emotions are very close to the surface.
There has been a lot of hope, people taking care of each other, being in nature, coming together, talking, creating, making good things happen, stepping in, including people. People are looking for good in the world and want things to improve they hope for the best and it’s powerful.
It’s clear that the challenges are not going anywhere, that people are struggling, that there isn’t enough support for vulnerable people. But there is still so much community and solidarity in Stockton. Despite people’s differences people see each other as neighbours and as humans. It is one of the friendliest and warmest places I have ever worked.
As we move into phase two of the project, I go through the expressions of interest that we have had from a huge amount of incredible artists from Teesside and beyond. All of whom want to make work inspired by what is on people’s minds right now. A huge community of artists that care strongly about social justice. I feel so lucky to be a freelancer working for an organisation like ARC that really and truly cares and values the feelings and opinions of the community that they serve.
Creative Director – What’s On Your Mind?