The place I grew up in is a mismatched, beautiful, eclectic mix of stretching coastline, wide purple moorland and smoky industry. The people are strong and kind, the beaches are scenic, and the irritating squawk of the seagull pervades the skies relentlessly. Teesside gets a bad rep, but I can’t imagine growing up anywhere different. To live here has been strange and magical and bright. Me and my friends spent our teenage years at the sand dunes next to the caravan park, getting lost in vast fields, or taking the train to Middlesbrough for £2.00 on a Saturday to go shopping.
Living in a coastal town means your social life revolves around meeting on the beach; drinking cans of Strongbow Dark Fruit and having to head in groups to find somewhere where the jagged coastline will hide you whilst you have a wee.
My most vivid memories of living here are set in front of the backdrop of the sand and the freezing North Sea. Walking miles to get to a nice spot, someone bringing a speaker and you spending half the night trying to light a fire with a few pieces of driftwood. With this come the hallucinogenic lights of the arcades, sugary doughnuts, lemon top ice cream and chips, shivering on the pier in the rain. Long and hazy summer afternoons would often mean swimming in the choppy sea, getting washed up on the shore in an attempt to jump the waves, and screaming when a crab pinched our toes.
But Teesside is also a place deeply steeped in history, with the closure of the Redcar Steelworks in 2015 deeply affecting most people in the area. Unemployment had devastating effects for a lot of families, and the people felt ignored by their government and their MP. The orange lights of the steelworks that looked out over the town went out one day and never returned. To me, the works have always made the landscape what it is; the blend of the man-made and the natural coming together in a dreamy, harmonious way, which I have never seen anywhere else. When I got a weekend job in my local history museum, our main exhibition was on the steelworks and the integral part they played in our area. I spent many a Saturday listening to people who told me their stories of working there; stories of job loss, of danger, and of the many accidents and injuries which happened on the job. A striking testimony of the former glory and later decline of the area’s main employer.
But times change, and the landscape with it. When I came back home for the Christmas holidays we drove past the seafront and I discovered the Regent cinema we used to go to had been demolished; the piles of rubble and the stretching sea made me realise that nothing remains the same. In the short time I had been at university the place I once lived in was changing without me, for better or for worse. The people, however, remain the same; they are the ones who make the place, and I am lucky to feel at home in Teesside because of the most kind-hearted, vivacious, sparkling people; my friends. We did nothing miraculous before we went to uni – we spent our frees in the art block at college and lunchtimes in the Priory, went to concerts and laughed at nothing on the train. But I have been privileged to grow up with the most inspiring people in my life. On my last night before moving to Durham we rescued a hedgehog from the road and set it free in my friend’s garden under the light of the moon. It seemed a fitting goodbye, a fitting tribute to the bittersweet years I have spent there.
Featured Image by Millicent Stott