Last weekend saw the official re-opening of the Portslade Cattle Arch. We’ve been working with this impressive project since it was selected a few months ago as one of the trial projects for the Cif Hello Beautiful Neighbourhood Project.
I finally got to meet the brilliant characters in this story who I’d been conversing with or heard so much about over the last couple of months, including Patricia from the Friends of Vale Park board, who had put the initial application in and was busy serving teas & coffees when I arrived (a vital role for any British community project, especially in the rain!); Jesse with whom I had a great conversation about loneliness and mental health; and the tireless Jeff whose energy and vision carried the project through to completion.
The tunnel, built in the 1840s, is an important link between two parts of the town of Portslade. Crossing underneath the railway, it saves a long walk around to the next crossing point and sees the passage of hundreds of pedestrians every day. Yet it was low, dark and slightly scary (there’s even been a science-fiction book written about it!); last year a stolen motorcycle was set alight inside, which covered the walls with soot. Kids were scared to walk through to football practice without their parents.
With support from Cif for products and materials, Jeff rallied over 20 community members for an afternoon of hard scrubbing, elbow grease and lots of laughter. Energetic 7-year old Poppy was so into it that she refused to take a lunch break. Volunteers from the funder Cif rolled up their sleeves.
A couple of weeks later, the community assembled again to paint the tunnel white; already the change in feeling was striking. But the most incredible transformation took place during the four days before my visit … local artist HarpoArt created a vibrant spray-painted mural in his signature stained-glass style, which reflects and celebrates the history of the Cattle Arch which farmers used to drive cattle from one side of the railway to the other.
This was a classic example of community rallying to improve their local area for the general wellbeing and happiness of those around them. Led by members of local community group Friends of Vale Park, fed and watered by local cafes, and with materials provided by a local paint business, this project very much claimed the stamp of local ownership.
To finish, I’d like to quote Yvonne, who I met and works for the brilliant Young Citizens, who had written a great blog about the first cleaning day:
But volunteering in your local community has given me much more than a better walk to school with my son, it’s taught me 3 things:
i) I’ve learnt the names of people I’ve lived houses away from for almost 20 years
ii) I’ve learnt that one person can make a change and that if you’re prepared to lead, others will follow
iii) I’ve also learnt that when people work together great things can be achieved.
Find out more about Friends of Vale Park here: https://semble.org/project/love-vale-park/
Find out more about the Cif Hello Beautiful Neighbourhood Project, including more photos of the Cattle Arch project, here: https://semble.org/campaign/cif-hello-beautiful-neighbourhood/