Marton Library Birthday

Marton Library former staffMP Tom Blenkinsop helped a Middlesbrough library celebrate its 50th birthday on Saturday, a real triumph for the community.

When Marton Library faced closure as a result of government cuts to local authorities the whole community rallied round to save this vital facility. It was vital that volunteers came forward to assist the library service and a whole raft of community events and activities were centred on a building at the heart of the suburb. For instance a guided walk next Saturday from Guisborough walkway back to the library.

On Saturday morning Marton Library’s celebrations formed part of the final fling of Middlesbrough Literary Festival with comedy script writer and author Dean Wilkinson hosting a workshop. There were also children busy with activities in a corner and Yorkshire poet Jane Sharp was on hand to read her work and sell From Maths to Making Tea, a specially collated booklet for the event.

MP Tom Blenkinsop once used this library as a youngster when he lived around the corner. So it was very apt that he should cut the cake to celebrate the birthday with former staff, volunteers and many of the library users.

Like Tom I also used to live near here in Chestnut Drive and being pretty much the same age as the library you could say we grew up together. I remember borrowing books here when attending Captain Cook school, non fiction usually about trains, bridges, the British Isles and different countries around the world things like that. This place helped fire my imagination and love of history and geography. It certainly set many of us on the way to developing our reading skills and getting lost in our hobbies as well as our early studies.

The events took place just a mile or so north of Stewart Park parkrun and I recognised a couple of runners and volunteers from that event. A couple of miles further north again perhaps 250 people were also running at Albert Park parkrun. Three popular community binding events, using council facilities but reliant on volunteers to give their time and energy.

I chatted briefly to Tom Blenkinsop MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland about the library birthday.

Rob: We are at the 50th birthday party of Marton Library. Just how important is the library to its local community?

Tom: It is massively important for the local community. You have to pay tribute to the local councillors Tom Mawston and Dorothy Davidson for galvanising the local community around the Friends of Marton campaign. I remember when it kicked off and it has brought in loads and loads of different people from the community and spurned lots of other activities for residents here. For me, for someone that was brought up living round the corner and uses this library it is quite funny in a way coming along and celebrating the 50th birthday cutting the cake and celebrating it. But it is nice.

Rob: And if the library had closed and not made its 50th birthday just looking at all the events and activities on the walls that you were mentioning it would have been a big loss in all sorts of ways.

Tom: Any library closing is a loss to a community. We have got to remember that libraries are not just a warehouse for books they are living, active, breathing places where lots of other activities and events take place and they provide one of the pillars of society in helping literacy. That could be for young children in the local community but increasingly now adult literacy for some of our residents. You have got 60-70 year old pensioners living in the area who went straight into industry without any qualifications and weren’t really helped at school when they were younger because conditions such as dyslexia and dyspraxia were not diagnosed at the time and they never had the opportunity because they were never given the opportunity to read. These libraries and the volunteers here working with local schools and the council provide those opportunities and I think we have got to remember that it is not a straight forward A to Z route in life sometimes people go through different letters in different orders and end up at different points in time because opportunities are given or not given.

Marton Library 50th

Tom Blenkinsop and the Marton Library gang


Why Not Parkrun?


The recent Riverside Run was such a success. Whether running 5k or 2k the chance for mere mortals such as ourselves to finish a race with an Olympic style finish lapping the Riverside Stadium was a truly joyful experience. Next up is the Sabic Tees Pride 10k on Sunday 8th September when it seems half of Teesside and beyond turns out to run, jog, walk or crawl around south Middlesbrough. Yeah but how to stay race ready between these runs? Or how to get in some kind of shape to take on the Tees Pride 10k? Why not do what hundreds of other Teesside folk do and parkrun on a Saturday morning? A weekly free timed 5km run.

First things first the new runmiddlesbrough website has lots of handy tips and loads of training runs that you can take part in. You can enter the Tees Pride 10k online on the website.

Why not also run a free timed 5km run every Saturday morning? It is in a park and away from traffic and you will be with lots of friends. This can make it a safer experience for you as well as benefiting from the support of others.

At 9am on a Saturday morning thousands of people of all ages, either gender and all levels of fitness are poised for a starting signal in parks up and down the country. Actually across in Europe and in Australia as well. What started as a fitness run for a bunch of friends in London has developed into an international weekly event. In Middlesbrough Albert parkrun has recently celebrated its fifth birthday. Just across the river, Tees Barrage was one year old last week and Stewart Park has a first birthday in another week’s time.

Parkruns are free to enter. Everyone and everything is completely voluntary. It is also a great community event and you will find you get loads of support from fellow runners all the way round the park circuit. Afterwards you can stagger into a cafe and put all the calories back on with a coffee and big cake. But the great thing is you make friends and everyone is in it together.

Parkrun is a totally fun, 5 km run, not race, around a park near you every Saturday at 9am. All you need to do is register on the site. and you will be given a barcode. Print that barcode off take it with you to the park tomorrow morning and then enjoy your run. At the finish line you will be given a numbered tag and this will be scanned together with your barcode to give you a time. Simple as that but that time can be compared by age to anyone running in the country and can be a target to match or beat next week for yourself.

We can rightly be proud that in Teesside we have one of the highest concentrations of parkruns in the country, in fact Middlesbrough was the first town nationally to get two runs. Albert Park is the grandaddy of all our local parkruns, five years old and regularly attracting near 200 runners a week. They had 356 one week! But don’t worry the runners include slow joggers, stop, starters and even walkers. Everyone can lap the park at their own pace and in good company. Parking is at the Clairville Common end meet at the lakeside cafe where you can leave bags etc.

The newly refurbished Stewart Park is a lovely setting for a Saturday parkrun, with a few extra features in the dramatic new Captain Cook sculptures to look out for along the route between the lakes and wooded glades and over the map of the world. There were nearly 250 runners a couple of weeks ago as popularity grows and grows as the Marton run fast approaches its first birthday.

The start is outside Captain Cook Museum looking down on the park and we finish in the quadrangle by Henry’s Cafe (where you can leave bags and coats etc beforehand) and you’d be foolish to turn down the chance of a cuppa afterwards. If you grab bats for a free game of table tennis afterwards then you haven’t run fast enough I would have to say. Park in the main Ladgate Lane car park.

If you live outside of Middlesbrough there is a parkrun at Tees Barrage, or round Locke Park, Redcar and slightly further afield around the beautifully rejuvenated lake in Hardwick Park at Sedgfield and at South Park, Darlington. You will find free parking at each event and a welcoming cafe at the end of the route.

Go to the site register, print off your barcode. Go to the Events page and look up the details of your nearest parkrun and I’ll maybe see you at the start line tomorrow morning. Remember the start in every park is at 9am sharp. Although put a loud-hailer to their mouths and a couple of these starters like to gas a bit so you might get lucky if you are late, and you might be waiting for starters orders a couple of minutes after nine. That is what I always rely on in any case. I’ll see you tomorrow at Stewart Park, unless I am too late then I’ll see you at Albert Park.


Back Into The Future with Christopher Dresser in Middlesbrough

Christopher DresserSometimes a knowledge of the past can be a springboard for the future. Last week was the inauguration of a society that promises to make Middlesbrough a destination for students, designers and antique lovers. And if the launch event is anything to go the Christopher Dresser Society will have real global appeal.

Last week a society to the great Victorian designer Christopher Dresser was launched at the Dorman Museum and Teesside University. The event attracted Dresser followers from three continents, a former top flight footballer in a room that buzzed with excitement.

Collector Harry Lyons has donated his entire life’s work collection of Christopher Dresser designs and archive to the museum.

The aim is to open a new gallery next year at the museum dedicated to Dresser and as well as an archive to a man whose legacy has been vast but whose name is today perhaps not so well known outside specialist circles. The Dorman Museum gallery and archive could well change all that. This was made possible through generous funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, V & A Purchase Grant, The Art Fund and Middlesbrough & Teesside Philanthropic Foundation.

Christopher Dresser came to Middlesbrough in the middle of the industrial revolution to launch the Linthorpe Pottery. He would move on to work in metal, furnishings and carpets and produce household objects for the middle classes and eventually the masses.

In his day he was a truly a household name not just in this country but in Japan where he travelled and across the Atlantic in USA. In fact he was a giant in his era, he was maybe unique in running a Victorian design consultancy. At one time he had equal standing to the great arts and craft protagonist William Morris. Unlike Morris he designed objects that were affordable by embracing the industrial revolution. So it was a great fit for Dresser to be working in the Infant Hercules.

Dresser worked in many other towns and cities and worldwide in fact but no one was ever previously claimed him. His name is on the rise again and the Heritage Lottery funded gallery and archive are set to make Middlesbrough a hot destination for lovers of art and design.

I interviewed Gill Moore, Curator of the new Dresser Gallery at Middlesbrough’s Dorman Museum to tell us more about Christopher Dresser, the Middlesbrough connection, why he was so important in the 19th century and just why his name could make a difference again in the 21st century.

Gill: I am here today at the launch of the Christopher Dresser Society. And for those of you who don’t know who Christopher Dresser was he was the originator of The Linthorpe Pottery just down the road from the museum. And we are really excited because in the past Middlesbrough has had such a bad press, it is all doom and gloom. Whenever you see anything in the local news it is about unemployment or something negative whereas Christopher Dresser is looking at a different side, it is a really positive aspect of the town. We really want to make people proud of their heritage. This is something that has been kept quiet for so long and it is of real importance nationally and international significance. We are going to make a really big thing of it and we are going to be able to attract people from all over the world to Middlesbrough.

RN: As this day has shown.

Gill: We have got people from all over; from all over the country and we have even got someone from South Africa, a member of the Dresser family. We have someone from Washington USA. In fact Dresser is probably better known in USA and other countries than he is here and this is why we need to address this and do something about it and celebrate his legacy to the town.

RN: And will the Dorman Museum be a centre of excellence to Christopher Dresser?

Gill: It will be. We have got a tremendous archive so it will be an opportunity for anyone to come and study Dresser. It will be accessible to people. You just need to get in touch and we will give access to the fantastic resources we’ve got here.

RN: A lot of people might know the name Christopher Dresser from items shown on Antiques Roadshow but from what I have gleaned today perhaps his name should be up there alongside William Morris for the influence he had as a designer etc.

Gill: Exactly. Dresser’s name disappeared into obscurity after his death. I think part of the problem was because Dresser was designing for the future, he was mass producing things. So people didn’t hold him in quite such high esteem as William Morris’ hand produced things.

But now of course when we look at the way technology and mass production Dresser was always looking to make good design affordable for the masses. So in some ways although William Morris promoted himself as a socialist it was Dresser’s ideals that targeted the right audience.

RN: And his designs were so innovative they have stood the test of time and are still being made today.

Gill: That is right. The design company Alessi are still producing work that Christopher Dresser designed 150 years ago.

RN: And we can be proud because of his association with Linthorpe Pottery.

Gill. Yes and also the Dresser family are a local family. The family actually came from North Yorkshire originally. Some people might be familiar with Dressers the newsagents and stationers in Darlington and Northallerton but they part of the extended family. Tom Dresser VC,Middlesbrough, he was also part of that family. So really it has got a lot of connections with this area. And as I say it is something we haven’t really recognised before.

RN: And today is the launch of the society?

Gill: This is the launch of the society and we are hoping it is going to get bigger and better but we are really positive about the response today. There are lots of enthusiasts and lots of excitement and positive thoughts about the future.

We are also redeveloping one of our galleries in the museum to dedicate it to Dresser. So that will be a bigger draw. So, the sky is the limit really as to how far we can go with Dresser and the benefits it could actually bring to the local economy because it is going to attract people from all over the world.


Christopher Dresser could soon be a name that trips off the tongue with William Morris. A pioneer in a pioneering town. A blast from the past could be a jewel in Middlesbrough’s revival.


Happy day in Middlesbrough

Just wanted to share what a lovely day I had in Middlesbrough yesterday. It was also my birthday!

Started my my Middlesbrough morning at Caffe Nero, for a mocha and porridge for breakfast, in that order.

I received great presents including a great necklace from Topshop and a gift card for TK Maxx (one of my fave places to shop for a bargain in Middlesbrough, on my last random shop picked up a table tennis kit, work out gear & shoes).

Lunch was great at Walkabout. I had the veggie-friendly tree-hugger burger with fried egg. Friends had a Chicken Caesar Salad and vegetarian lasagna – all looked delicious.

After work, had a great meal at Nando’s. Vegetarians have a great Portobello Mushroom & Haloumi cheese option there. From there it was on to see the very funny ponydance at the Middlesbrough Empire, a Dance Middlesbrough event.

It was an entertaining take on the often hilarious but cringe-y in the light of day behaviour that takes place at a typical night club when people are on the pull. It was an interactive performance so some people in the crowd definitely got more than they bargained for!

ponydance at the Middlesbrough Empire



Dance company ponydance features super talented local lad Neil Hainsworth who produced a dance video ode to Middlesbrough.

After the show, managed to catch the tail-end of the Middlesbrough Literary Festival event with Andy Kershaw at Mink, running into blogger extraordinaire Rob.

There was live music on at Mink after the talk too. Didn’t catch the name of a talented young woman who performed after Andy Kershaw, who was then followed by  the amazing, veteran performer Dave Sharp (of The Alarm).

Dave Sharp (The Alarm) at Mink, Middlesbrough

Afraid, was too tired to continue on to Mixtape at The Keys but wow what a great range of things to do in Middlesbrough on a Tuesday in June.



Children from across Teesside are set to converge on Middlesbrough Town Hall to join forces for a spectacular celebration marking the 100th birthday of one of Britain’s greatest classical composers.

As part of a national celebration, schools from Middlesbrough, Stockton, Yarm and Egglescliffe will perform some of the late, great Benjamin Britten’s most popular compositions on Friday, July 5.

Middlesbrough Council is organising the Big Britten Birthday Bash, which will see pupils from eight local primary schools sing out in memory of the famous composer and conductor who would have celebrated his century later this year.

The children are busy learning songs written by Britten that he called ‘Friday Afternoons’ – because that was when the children at his brother’s prep school practised the songs.

Around 200 pupils from Middlesbrough’s Thorntree, Caldicotes, Beech Grove and Easterside primary schools are currently rehearsing six of the songs, along with their counterparts from St Bede’s in Stockton, Levendale, Yarm and Egglescliffe primary schools.

They will become one voice when they meet for the first time at Middlesbrough Town Hall on the evening of July 5 to sing the songs in front of an audience of family and friends.

As part of Middlesbrough Council’s children’s classical programme, pupils at the schools are enjoying workshops from local singing leaders to teach them the songs – including ‘Old Abram Brown’, ‘Cuckoo’, ‘Jazz Man’, ‘There was a Monkey’, ‘Fishing Song’ and ‘There was a Man of Newington’.

Individual schools will also sing ‘Eh-Oh’, ‘Begone, Dull Care’, ‘A Tragic Story’, ‘The Useful Plough’ and ‘I Mun Be Married on Sunday’.
Singing leader Emily Smith said: “It’s fantastic to be doing music that is really challenging the children because, unlike adults, children don’t get fazed by difficult songs. They rise to the occasion.

“I’ve been absolutely amazed about the professional attitude I’ve witnessed from children from a wide range of schools, including those in underprivileged areas, who have been a delight to work with.

“But working on this project has given me a new-found respect for Benjamin Britten because he wrote so well for children.”

Among those taking part in the celebration are seven- to ten-year-old girls and boys at Caldicotes Primary Academy in Middlesbrough’s Thorntree area.

Music coordinator Karen Hill: “The children normally sing show tunes and other popular songs so this is really challenging for them.

“Benjamin Britten wrote very unusual songs with some difficult vocabulary but the children have coped with so well and are really excited about the prospect of singing at the Town Hall.”

The concert will also see the pupils introduced to other Britten works by local professional musicians who will demonstrate their instruments in a way that is fun and interesting for children.

In good voice: Singing leader Emily Smith with Caldicotes pupils as they prepare for their big day at Middlesbrough Town Hall.