Rubbish Seaside

A little over a year ago, on the 29th of November 2019,  the Guardian published a series of artworks entitled Rubbish Seaside.

It featured a satirical mock-up of an old fashioned railway poster advertising Blackpool. The artist had written: “ahead of us was a small army of scallies, all of whom had matching coldsores and were passing the time by gobbing on everyone below. It just seemed to sum the entire place up perfectly”.

My friend and fellow teacher Charlotte and I were incensed by what we saw as a lazy and puerile depiction of a place that we had lived and worked in and come to love. We wrote a letter to the section editor saying so. It seemed so wrong that a newspaper calling itself progressive was making fun by punching down.

The editor, Tash Reith-Banks, answered comprehensively and sympathetically. We cheekily responded with a pitch for a response article, which she accepted. It was published on the 6th of December.

I found publication day stressful. I felt vulnerable. I lived and worked in Blackpool at the start of my career but had recently moved back to my home city of Manchester. I wondered whether I really had the right to speak on behalf of the town. I was anxious about what my ex-colleagues would think.

I needn’t have worried. The response we had from our colleagues and friends in Blackpool was overwhelming in its positivity, generosity and humour (more than one person texted me to say that they had a coldsore). One of my friends, born and bred in Blackpool, told me: “I 100% grew up thinking I had to move to London to get somewhere. I went to London for a theatre experience day for uni and hated it and cried”. London has a similar effect on me. Our piece seemed to speak to a lot of people’s feelings and experiences.

By far the best thing was the fact that teachers in Blackpool developed lessons around the piece, using it to provoke discussions about media depictions of the town. I love that our writing lives on in learning resources, and that our pupils can see their teachers sticking up for their home.

Jack Hurley, the artist behind the original posters, was gracious; he brought traffic to our article by tweeting about it. Our piece was never a personal attack on him, but a challenge to outlets like the Guardian to do better in representing the north.

I want editors working for national news outlets to understand that although a piece like ours might only be on the main page of the website or app for a few hours, it really does make a lasting difference. We raised £434 for Blackpool Carers through the link we put at the end of our piece (we donated our fee too). It is so rare that places like Blackpool are represented in a nuanced, asset-focussed way. North-based arts projects and organisations that we mentioned in passing were thrilled to have their names in the national press for the first time, and still use our article to evidence their impact to funders. They need this much more than the National Theatre does.

Rebecca Grant started her teaching career in Blackpool. She is currently working on a PhD about educational disadvantage in Manchester, writing for Kick Down the Barriers in Blackburn and continues to teach in secondary schools. Charlotte Yates has worked in a number of roles in education and currently teaches English in a state secondary in the North West of England.

The authors of this article are supporting Blackpool Carers’ Centre, which provides essential assistance for young people with caring responsibilities. Donations can be made here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rebeccacharlotte2019


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