Today’s post as its not about illustration or anything vaguely arty, instead its about the community where I live with my husband in Newcastle and why I love being part of it.
I knew before moving to Newcastle in 2006 that the area known as Arthur’s Hill (or more widely Fenham) where my then boyfriend owned his house was considered to be an undesirable part of the city to live. I never really fully understood why, but that’s probably because by the time I arrived on the scene the days where practically every house in the locality had bars on the windows were gone. This past Fenham is now long gone, yet despite huge improvements it still carries a stigma. The perception of the place was perfectly illustrated recently by two of my husband’s students, who don’t live in Fenham, but made great assumptions in a presentation that backed up the standard view - painting it as ‘rough’.
I suppose having lived previously for many years in fairly dodgy parts of Manchester (Levenshulme, Rusholme), Arthur’s Hill didn’t feel particularly unsafe - it was exactly the kind of place that I was used to. I’ve never had any bad experiences here (touch wood that I never do). Ok so you get the odd group of kids hanging outside the local shop, but really where doesn’t? And I’ll admit it has a big litter problem which badly needs addressing, but all in all I consider it to be a safe and vibrant place to live.
Last year we decided to put our house on the market, mainly because we wanted a change of scene and something which Arthur’s Hill definitely does not have - a nice local pub. Yup it appears I have reached ‘local pub’ age – yikes!
Also there was speculation in the rumour mill that due to all the government cuts and the impact this was having on the North East, Arthur’s Hill may slip back into it’s former bars on the windows self. So I’m ashamed to say there was an element of jumping ship.
However we were in two minds as to whether or not we definitely wanted to leave, and the more we looked at potential new areas to live in the more we noticed there were very few places we wanted to move to. Added to this was the realisation that nowhere else would be nearly as convenient; as it’s around a 15 to 20 min walk from town (so both Dave & I can walk to work), its close to a park, and a major bonus – it has the largest, cheapest & best quality green grocers i’ve ever known (Hutchinsons).
We had a lot of viewers who already lived in the community. A number of them had moved to Newcastle from other regions and were now renting in Fenham, but decided to buy because they liked the area so much. The praises for Arthur’s Hill and the house were sung over and over, which all the more made us want to stay. A few offers came in and we saw a couple of places we quite liked, but after a few months of looking couldn’t think of anywhere else we’d rather be; and in the knowledge that I would soon be embarking on a mission to make a living from freelance illustration, being somewhere with a low mortgage made sense.
So in January the house came off the market, and instead we decided to try and make a positive difference to the place we lived in by joining a community partnership project called ‘Greening Wingrove’- http://greeningwingrove.org.uk/
Wingrove’ is to help and inspire people within the community to work towards improving the area in all kinds of ways as well as to bring the community together.
The ward is by far and away the most diverse in Newcastle and I really love this about it. I strongly believe this is something that should be valued rather than looked down upon (which I think it is by some). Living amongst so many different people makes me feel part of something good and genuine.
Unfortunately people do tend to keep themselves to themselves and there is an element of different groups sticking together, which is only natural. So ‘the project is also trying to encourage greater interaction between the different cultures and engage the community in it’s entirety. It’s a noble project with admirable ambitions.
Recently as part of the lottery funded Greening Wingrove project a growing in small spaces initiative has been launched which we decided to get involved with, especially because Dave is quite green fingered already. The initiative is trying to encourage as many people as possible to grow veg in their front yard space, with the long term goal of transforming street fronts into lush green and partly edible spaces. It will also act as a talking point, so a means to get neighbours to engage with one another and grow the community spirit.
To get us going a workshop was hosted by Mark Ridsdill Smith from Vertical Veg http://www.verticalveg.org.uk/ with tips and advice about growing in containers.
So Dave has made a start by installing this enormous planter at the front of the house:
While he was putting it in a number of passers-by and neighbours got talking to him about it. A real testament to the initiative considering we’ve barely only ever exchanged ‘hellos’ with most of our neighbours!
Now we’ve started potting various types of runner beans and herbs.
I have a good feeling about it and I’m hoping that being able to concentrate fully on the illustration will maybe free up some actual spare time so that I can contribute to this more.
As the stuff grows I’ll post some more pics and hopefully later in the year we’ll be able to see and eventually harvest some of the fruits (or veg) of our labour. Watch this space.