But it is important to reflect on the approach I took this time around. As a council officer pointed out, not many towns undergoing a current demolition of their high street would consider that a World Market could take place within the holes, diggers and fenced off mayhem of the works – But Stockton is definitely not like any other town – and perhaps that is starting to sink home amongst people.
The World Market itself was an indication not only of what we HAVE in the area – the growing multi-cultural food offer filled air with smells and an lunchtime was a bustling, munching success as the odours African stews of mingled with Mexican, Polish, French and British dishes. Perhaps we need to work harder on the other retail areas that our increasing International community can offer – hair braiding, art work, textiles… but small steps are better than none.
My own little contribution was the next step in how we best involve our own community to improve the high street context. Following on the ‘hello’ of #smile and the metaphor of The Piano, I was keen to explore how we could add community driven musical content to a street retail context. I was also really keen to give the extraordinary model of Matty’s Bistro an ‘commissioned’ brief to see how they responded. Bearing in mind that Matty’s Bistro is a training programme for unemployed young people – many from Care and anyone who understands the challenges of similar programmes may flinch at the thought of putting such inexperience in the public domain. But with the quality, experience and ability of Matty Brown at the helm – ably supported by big Robin, Matty’s Bistro were able to prove the point that given the opportunity, ANYONE can prove their ability. Change the teaching – not blame the learner – and things happen. On Friday, supported by Town Team over 350 people were served by this exceptional example of vocational training – and all thoroughly enjoyed English Breakfasts, French Lunch and African takeaway Dinner offer.
So why bother with adding performance to Matty’s efforts? To me, something that tends to be missing from our current market atmosphere is an appeal to all the senses. Perhaps looking back with rose-tinted headphones, or perhaps because I watched Oliver the musical more times than is healthy, I like to think that a street market can be a multi-sensory experience – somewhere one can see what is on offer; smell the foods and cooking; feel the produce and taste it before you buy – with sounds and atmosphere to draw you in and stick around. THESE things can never be replaced by internet shopping. They add value and an emotional, human experience to shopping that we can bring back to our high street at relatively low cost – and in doing so, the participants become interactive market users. One could put in a solo busker of course – but to multiply the soloist by 100 and give people who WANT to perform the opportunity to do so in a new, vibrant context is surely a no-brainer. Performing Arts students learning how to perform on the street – in a town who’s signature event is centred around street performance; a town choir who have found a love of singing and fellowship and who have the collective confidence to contribute to their town; add to it musicians from outside Stockton – who tell their friends and who comment that Stockton is the place to be and we start to create a formula where unemployed people are suddenly employed; those who want to learn are given a context to develop; those who previously sang in the shower sing as a matter of course and the whole thing brings together ownership and an irreplaceable atmosphere that gives people a sense of what could be as opposed to what used to be. Of course we were dabbling – trying things – but if we take the bits that work and help them grow… then why couldn’t Stockton Market ALWAYS be a place of music, smiles and human joy? The market that starts to market itself and a town begins to believe in itself once again.
You may say I’m a dreamer – but I really am NOT the only one.
November 28th. #thestar : You Are A Shining Light.