A couple of months ago, my good friend Frank invited me to a meeting of the Over 50s Club at St Joseph’s Court.
It was meant to be a gentle drop-in for a cup of coffee, but ended up as the biggest grilling I’ve had since the hustings during the General Election.
My goodness, was I put through the wringer. I was even asked if I remembered the 1914 bombardment of the Headland!
Truth be told, I forgive Frank for not telling me I was to be guest of honour at an unusually oversubscribed meeting of Hartlepool residents, because we played negativity ping-pong, and positivity won the day.
There are lots of reasons to decry what’s happening in the town – the negative effect of less community policing; council cuts impacting on basic services for both adults and young people; Universal Credit and absentee landlords drawing in an increasing number of people outside the area due to cheap rents, but there are also lots of reasons for us to keep our chins up and celebrate what we’ve got and who we are.
Undeniably, we are fighters for one, and proud of our past and place.
I challenge anyone to deny that true Hartlepool folk are anything but loyal to their communities, people and history.
They are fiercely so and whatever is thrown at them they will defend their heritage, their kith and kin and their identity to a tee.
This has been shown time and time again – when we are down we are never out and, just like Hartlepool United, I’m sure we will always come back stronger.
As the town MP, I can honestly say a big ‘thank you’ to Frank and the over 50s because they were right to reflect on how it was back in the day with caring neighbourhoods and less crime, but were right also not to lose sight of recovering those days and the spirit of those communities and times.
Of course, we can all be accused of looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses and harping back to so-called better times, but to be honest the days of moaning about the Warrior being a much better ship to display in our town centre than the Trincomalee are respectfully over.
We have a fantastic warship in our town centre, part of the prestigious National Museum of the Royal Navy and few other places can boast that.
Never mind dreams of a modern-day equivalent of Pinewood Studios being built near Seaham, what about us? What about Sir Ridley Scott and our unique Northern College of Art footprint?
What about Vera, George Gently, Victoria and over this last fortnight alone Channel 4 and 5 making programmes here? What about standing up for the Heugh Battery, our heritage and legacy, the petrified forest or Summerhill and the Anglo-Saxon digs?
We are unique in our identity and have so much to offer.
Last week a local businessman said to me that we could do with a big Ferris Wheel on the Marina, a bit like the one in London; be ambitious because we deserve to be put on the map and draw people in; have some imagination, gusto and passion for the place. In the same week, it was announced that Newcastle/Gateshead are to get one for themselves.
While I’m not necessarily advocating big wheel rides on the Headland, I do say – where is our ambition and where is the cross-party support on the council to take us out of the mire and into the light?
Let’s make it happen and let’s hope that councillors act collectively to make it so.
After all, it’s very nice to watch a couple of films on a loop about the town at the train station by the wonderful Maxi Bianco, but the audience is by and large outgoing not incoming.
We need to turn that around somehow and that will mean everybody pulling together, not just politicians.
It’s a sobering thought that we hit all the wrong records for the wrong reasons – highest rate of unemployment in the country; some of the most deprived wards in the country; and the second lowest rate of life expectancy amongst men and women.
We have a choice. We either live with all that and be forever the town that remains forgotten and backward-thinking, or we stand up for ourselves and work together to make things better and aim towards a brighter future.