Monday, January 30, 2012

An Anniversary to Remember

Saltburn has just ended its 150th anniversary year. Long-time resident Michael Morrissey talked to local people and reports on what over 50 events did for the town’s community and commercial hearts.

A widely-admired mosaic memento is brightening up Saltburn town centre to mark the town’s 150th anniversary last year. The five mosaic panels on Sainsbury’s supermarket wall form an attractive ‘welcome’ to the railway platforms and supermarket car park. Up until the end of January there was a race against time to complete payments for the panels, which show the town’s history. The last few hundred pounds towards the £9,600 cost was being raised by organiser Philip Thomson.

Probably the most striking is panel No. 4 on the walkway at the side of the supermarket. This shows town crier Sharon Wilson in the town centre. Befrocked and ringing her handbell, she did a shocked double-take last November when she saw a likeness of herself on the huge mural as it was unveiled.
“My immediate thought was: `My Goodness this is going to be there forever!`” she said later. “Everyone, both residents and visitors, loves the five murals. They are cheery and bright. They show the story of Saltburn from the arrival of the first steam train in 1861, our pier with a Victorian mum and her son walking along it through to the town centre buildings – and me.” Sharon, who hopes to continue her volunteer role in future, said: “My likeness looks better than me!”

About the year of celebrations, the mum-of-two teenagers, said: “It’s been good.” Others - both community and business representatives - agree.
Veronica Boland, a Saltburn Community and Arts Association committee member, was upbeat: “It’s gone really well. A lot of people have been involved.”

Councillor Stuart Smith, a former community policeman in the town, said the events had strengthened a strong spirit of community already existing in the commuter- and-holiday town of 6,000 people.

Activities ranged from a beer festival to beach spectacular drawing an estimated 10,000 people to the town in the summer, five formal heritage lectures and a town party involving 400 family members to mark Prince William’s wedding.

All these events were new to the annual calendar. Several organisations like the Folk Festival and WI added “150 activities” to their annual contribution.
The business association was revived during the year and its 30 members now are “working together and communicating more,” said secretary Di Parker.

Cafes have had a boost, said Bob Mitchell, 31, of the Profile lounge. He and his wife Becky plan an arts fair in association with Mima, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art in August 2012.

Lee Ingleby, who has run an estate agency in the area for 30 years, said: “The whole town has been lifted by the celebrations and publicity. Property-wise we are bucking the trend. Saltburn has improved over the past five years and this is attracting a lot of potential house-buyers from the south and other parts of the country. All the publicity over the 150th anniversary has put Saltburn firmly on the map. We have no empty shops. House sales at the top end of the market are particularly strong. A Durham City businessman recently bought a group of semi-detached houses and flats to rent. He’s after growth of 5-7 per cent.”

Glenn Pearson, fish-and-chip shop owner, who organised the Extravaganza spectacular, is aiming to secure sponsorship from large local firms, for a repeat in 2012.
“I’ve formed a Saltburn events’ committee dedicated to putting on large-scale events. This will allow me to seek large funding because of the considerable expense of putting on the spectacular. Next year’s show will be based on the film The Italian Job. It’s taking a year to plan.”

Jackie Taylor, a community stalwart for over 20 years, said she was pleased the “birthday year” was ending with two permanent features - the mosaics’ panels and replica of a steam train engine being placed near the town’s entrance.
"We’ve got one or two new recruits for the bandstand work. They include a young dad who put his new twins down as helpers for the future! In 2012 we are to move the Saturday night concert to the afternoon.”

New vicar the Rev Adam Reed praised the “good community spirit” and felt there was a “buzz about the town.”
He is pleased that the Emmanuel church hall, which is used by several dozen community groups, was nearing the end of a major refurbishment costing over £300,000. Archbishop John Sentamu opened it on Sunday, January 15th.

What could other small towns learn from Saltburn’s 150th celebration year?
When Philip Thomson, a community buff for over 25 years and active borough councillor, formed a coordinating group in mid-2010 he suggested organisations’ representatives should “own” events they suggested.
This thinned out over-ambitious ideas which cropped up in early discussions. Individuals – helped by volunteers among the group – ran activities ranging from a Northern Sinfonia Chorus concert to a modest croquet match through to literary, photographic and film events.

Mr Thomson undertook to raise money for the mosaic panels. Some came from local authority grants and some from sponsorship for climbing Ben Nevis last summer. In the last few weeks he personally delivered 3,000 begging letters round the town. The deadline for contributions to be made at the library was Tuesday, 31st January.

The 150 Group, of which I’ve been a member, has attracted dozens of organisations’ representatives at its regular meetings over an 18-month period.

Artists Derek Mosey and Helen Gaunt have put in many hours of work to create and produce the five panels - helped by some 2,000 locals and visitors who stuck glass tiles into place during Saturday morning workshops.

The 150th celebrations were publicised through the internet and local media. Several national travel publications have visited the town and boosted hotel and bed-and- breakfast bookings.

A £2 booklet is just out and a DVD is being prepared. It’s been “a year to remember,” say the booklet writers.

Cheque donations to the mosaic project can be made out to Derek Mosey, c/o Saltburn Artists’ Projects, 32 Marske Road, Saltburn. TS12 1QG.

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