THE landscape of Teesside might not be obviously beautiful. But to me that’s exactly the word I would use to describe this melting pot of British industry.
From the vivid intensity of molten steel being poured in foundries to the early morning light which catches the rooftops of the fisherman huts, this is a place of colour, of drama and of beauty.
And it’s not just the sights, but the sounds too, from the howling gales which whistle through the sand dunes to the distinct calls of bird-life on the estuary punctured by the bellowing horn of yet another monstrous tanker as it navigates itself into the port,
As a student at Teesside University in the early 1990s, for a few years that industrial coastline was my inspiration. I remember the struggles of trying to draw whilst shivering at the same time, the relief when the sun appeared through the dark plumes of smoke. I remember too the metronomic movements of the small fishing boats floating on the tide off South Gare and the weird and wonderful conversations with locals who have braved the elements for so long that they’d become immune to the harshness. Back then, luxury came in the form a sandwich wrapped in foil and a swig of coffee from a flask. Absolute bliss.
That and so much more is why the decision to mothball the Redcar steel plant fills me with deep sadness. I was born and bred on Teesside and appreciate how integral steel-making is to this vastly deprived area. After returning from Royal Navy duty my grandad worked there for several years, my mother was a buyer for ICI before it was dismantled and sold off to overseas investors and my father was a sales manager for a crane hire company that relied heavily on steel from Redcar. I also have friends, with families, who I spent my childhood with who are about to be made redundant. Everyone who lives or has lived on Teesside knows somebody who has “built the world”. Teesside steel is everywhere and we should never ever forget that fact.
I no longer live in the place I grew up. I moved a few miles south and am now an artist at the Yorkshire Post, but the culture and heritage of that place is written through me like a stick of rock.
One day, when I am washed up like an old lifebuoy, I will return there and hopefully spend as many hours down there as I did in my youth. Teesside is a canvas that would take pride of place in any gallery and one which needs to be preserved for ever.