The project ‘This Is Stanley’ culminated in an exhibition at Stanley Civic Hall throughout August 2016 and the premiere screening of the film ‘This Is Stanley’ on 31st July 2016.
On a hilltop not too far from Newcastle, Durham and Sunderland, the former mining town of Stanley overlooks rolling countryside all the way to the North sea in the east and to the Pennines in the west. With the decline of traditional industries in the North East as a whole, as well as in this town, much of the supporting infrastructure has fallen into decline: empty buildings, a struggling high street, lack of investment by big business or local government until very recently, reputation for crime and deprivation, a town that according to both insiders and outsiders should be bulldozed.
Over a period of six months I photographed and filmed inhabitants in Stanley and the surrounding areas. When I first started this project, I tried to approach it with an open mind. I arrived in Stanley, with little knowledge of the place and a barrage of rhetoric behind me, a town that is a huge part of my own family’s ancestry, but which I had only visited on a few occasions.
I was treated from the start with incredible friendliness, without exception all those that I approached were willing to tell me their story, to talk (often for hours) about the past, present and future of the town. The older generations remember the mining town, a vibrant and thriving place with something for everyone: shops, cafes, dance halls. They remember it as a place that was forgotten about once the mines closed.
The younger people remember a town that had little for them as they were growing up, but see it slowly improving thanks in part to the town’s excellent sporting facilities. Stanley has a long history of sporting prowess, boxers, runners, swimmers and the town is still producing successful athletes.
Overall though the impression I got was of a town that whatever happens to it, the people continue on regardless. A testament to this are the traditions that have survived generations of change: allotments, pigeon racing, social clubs which fit in perfectly amongst the pit cottages and terraced houses that haven’t changed in generations either. Tied in with those things is the strong sense of community spirit, people supporting and helping each other and this is reflected in the wide range of local charities that support every section of society.
Like any town there is crime, but no more than anywhere else and similarly there is unemployment, but that does not mean that there are not many hard working people giving back to the community in which they were brought up, or for that matter moved to. Stanley’s surrounding countryside is beautiful. The long gone mines have left huge open areas of fields and woods and along with the friendliness, this is a great attraction for people from outside the area. The extensive cycle paths and woodland walks take you to hills and valleys with breathtaking views. The accessibility by both road and bus make it ideal for anything that Stanley cannot provide.
During this six month project I became incredibly attached to Stanley and its people.