A TOWN BUILT ON STEEL, LOVE, AND A PINT OF WINE
My solo weekend away to Scunthorpe at a budget hotel was nowhere near as lonely as it sounds...
Scunthorpe used to be almost unsearchable on the internet due to having everyone’s favourite swear word in between the letters S and H. It now stands against the backdrop of a fading steel industry that serves as a potential threat to the town's cultural heritage.
In the 19th century, Japan faced a similar threat to its culture. Westernisation and Industrialisation threatened tradition; Local institutions lost money, architecture began to crumble and items rich in historical and artistic value were exported. To reclaim a sense of self, Japanese officials got together and invented the notion of ‘National Treasures’ - artifacts, buildings, artworks and skilled persons seen as essential to the preservation of the culture.
During my residency at The Watershed, I talked about this concept with local people in Scunthorpe; my aim being that they could then identify the town's unofficial National Treasures against the decline of its iconic industry.
For this starter trip, I created an interview station that could be used to meet people. The idea of wearing something on my back and putting up a stage meant that a lot of the focus was on me, I wasn't a fly on the wall. This made the vibe a bit ‘The Tenaya Show’, which kinda kills me, but at this point it was as much about me coming in as an outsider as it was about the locals and what their thoughts were on all of this, so instead of hiding from that I made it the point of the whole trip.
I made the call to go in as a ‘National treasure Hunter’ with the aim of finding champions in the community who, on my next trip, could trade places with me and lead me on the hunt.
It all started in Bristol with a bunch of late nights at the Pervasive media Studio, where I became hell-bent on infecting the worlds most techie studio with a sickening rampage of arts and crafts that included:
- UHU glue
- Felt (in various colours)
- Wooden dowel
- A dying drill
- Loads of string
If this wasn't bad enough, I also managed to bully a fellow resident into becoming my partner in crime in these chaotic late night crimes against digital arts. Looks like a bloody nice guy doesn't he?
Well that's before he drops your sound recording search lantern on the floor and dents it. Looks can be deceiving guys!
After I had wreaked havoc at the studio I took my trail of destruction to a standard back garden to pack up for my trip, with the welcome support of a canine guardian to oversee things and generally have my back the whole time.
Once I'd nailed the how-to-make-a-spectacle-of-yourself-on-your-trip-to-scunthorpe look, I was ready to set off. The contents on my back included:
- A backdrop
- A sound recording search lantern (obvs)
- A flag
Sorry folks, but 'The Tenaya Show' appears to be never ending. I don't have a smart phone and I'm no selfie queen (just an all-round one) so I've never taken so many pictures of myself in my goddam life [not counting Myspace].
I arrived at my new home: 'Kirks Korner Motel', situated next to a petrol station and a motorway, on an insanely sunny day in Scunthorpe. The girl who checked me in was a super funny teenager and I feel like we were kinda friends by the end though not sure the feeling was mutual maybe she'll add me on Myspace?
It wasn't long before I met a certain pup, lets call him Bae, and needless to say an unexpected holiday romance occurred between the 2 of us.
My ability to transform into an extrovert only when around dogs actually led me to meet some pretty cool guys from Scunthorpe. Here is Andy and Bae:
Andy went through a few schools as a kid, but he's found his feet and is now admirably proactive in writing super nice letters to the council about housing (he had me read one, can confirm it was super nice). I was also told that his dad was a member of the infamous 'Brumby Bovver Boys'... We got talking about this idea of searching for National Treasures; Andy was keen to show me around on my next trip up to see a decaying area of derelict steel-worker's cottages that he thinks are beautiful. As someone who doesn't have a secure home at the moment, he said it's somewhere he wishes he could live.
Here are his 2 mates who talked to me about how hard the steel situation has been for the town, and how TATA's takeover company 'British Steel' hasn't won anyone over yet. When Andy went to the bar I discovered that these two fellas were actually not his mates but had simply met him that day and really taken to him, they then gave me a look that implied he might be crazy - but I think the look meant 'crazy in a loveable way'.
That night I went to Cafe INDIEpendent for an art show and music night called "Who do you think you Art?" that had been organised by an amazing team of volunteers at Cafe INDIE alongside young curators Kathryn Spence and Connor Greenberg. It's here that I would say I made my greatest discovery. I was really eager to ensure that my project wasn't just about older men (apologies to the lads above), just because theirs is a collective voice that gets heard an awful lot already. It was this awareness that got me interested in meeting young people in the area, but I had no idea that what I would actually find is that Scunthorpe has a really great young creative scene.
I was seriously blown away by these young talents that I had not seen coming. I stuck around and we all got drunk together as this truly talented piano player called Sammy John-cook did an uninterrupted not-stopping-for-a-second performance, all whilst a drunk comedy genius called Melvyn performed a hilarious dance routine to match every track.
I never thought I had a 'girl who turns up to parties on her own' vibe, but it turns out I do - and it really paid off. The team at Cafe INDIEpendant and the young creatives involved in the event made me feel so welcome. It was like I’d hit the jackpot - a creative community without a scrap of pretense or exclusiveness, one that was open to new ideas and new people.
Kathryn Spence, the joint curator of the event, had so much sass - as did her best friend Jem, the two of them are pretty much my idols.
Kathryn's co-curator and boyfriend Connor did an amazing job and I'm certain that when the two of them looked at each other their pupils actually became shaped like love hearts. It's the kind of young love you always dream of having before you're met with the stark reality of a floppy haired teen dream who you will spend the next 5 years fancying after he snogged you for an hour at a party then ignored you on MSN messenger the next day :(
Call me cupid, but I also sensed a blossoming young romance between the two stars of the show: Melvyn and Jem. Basically, there was a whole lot of love.
The next day I met Shaffie, a charismatic taxi driver who had that rare quality of being able to relentlessly make fun of a total stranger (AKA me) and come off from it as a total charmer. Shaffie has been living in Scunthorpe for 20 years and in that time has married, divorced and done a whole bunch of living. He was really enthusiastic when I told him I'd like to come back and interview him - I wouldn't be surprised if Shaffie was actually working as a full time National Treasure Hunter as you are reading this post. My work here is done.
Shaffie gave me his details and was really sweet about helping me carry my stuff in (I was trying to be a down-ass chick and carry it all in myself but, despite my remarkably strong calves, my upper body strength leaves a lot to be desired). Within minutes of Shaffie leaving, I dropped my burner phone on the floor and the battery fell out thus deleting the text I had written with all of his details in. You could say I'd got myself into quite the Scunundrum!!!!!!!
I was tempted to end the post there in a terrible pun and cliffhanger moment, but pretty much everyone I know on Facebook will have probably seen my Fb appeal for Shaffie online, and so you'll know that I learnt his name via a Scunthorpe local who rates him just as much as I do. Also are cliffhangers even a thing anymore? Can anyone really do them justice quite like Ponyboy did in The Outsiders?
*UPDATE: I am currently in an awkward Fb stand off with EJ's taxis who were mad at Shaffie for giving me his email address, I am now trying to communicate with him via an open letter to Shaffi posted on their facebook wall...
During my short stay in Scunthorpe, I met a whole range of different people. I met guys who were worried they were losers for still living at home, girls who were worried they were sluts for sleeping with guys, people who were concerned for the steel industry, people who were hopeful of the same thing, people who were lost, people who were in love, people who were desperate to leave and people who were so glad to be home. Kinda Like any town.
In the words of Kathryn at the end of Who do you think you Art?:
“I think tonight has proven that Scunthorpe has its place on the map. It’s not just a shitty little town. There is talent, no matter how fucked up we are.”
Followed shortly after by:
“Jem, get the fuck off my pint of wine.”
Thanks for tuning into The Tenaya Show, please send any fan / hate mail to The Pervasive Media Studio, The Watershed, Bristol. Please note than Tenaya will probably be really lost somewhere, and it is unlikely she will look at any post unless there is a picture of a dog on it. Thank you and good night.