A knitting group visits the Maindee Stories project

Photos: Jo Sutton

Thursday, 14th July. 

We had visitors today from Magor Baptist Church – a group of knitters and crafters (Knit & Natter) that meet up every week.

It gave me a chance to explain how Maindee Stories began – starting with our trip to Bath to see Grayson Perry's work. Themes and imagery were challenging – I overheard someone say, "His work is overwhelming...yet when Marion explained it, it didn't seem like that anymore..."
I'm so glad that our group got the opportunity to go to Victoria Gallery in Bath because it's an extraordinary experience – which can be made accessible. 

As I'm talking to more people, meeting more groups, I'm discovering how our communities were so much stronger only just a few decades ago. Tales about how people would know every family including that family's children living in the neighbourhood, to children being safe playing out in the street,  running errands. It wasn't all idyllic and rose tinted, mind you. Further back in time...Tales of long-running feuds between families living in Wharf Road; tales of beautiful houses that had their fireplaces and other valuable assets ripped out and sold off – to children as young as 9 working from 8.30 in the morning until 10.30 at night for a pittance. 

So many stories.

People said that they had everything they needed in Maindee. It was a town in itself. The variety of individual, family-run businesses (some of which are still there today) – not just one grocer but several. Shops would remain open until 10.30, sometimes 12 at night, day in, day out. Tales of how people would leave their back doors open...we've heard all this before.

We don't live like that anymore, and would we want to? Is it simply nostalgia or do we yearn for something else?

Large out of town shopping malls sell absolutely everything. Supermarkets muscle in. Covered malls containing shops that we'd find on every UK high street. We're losing our identities. Isn't it all so convenient now. Everyone seems to have a car and those that don't, feel left behind – living a parallel life – shopping in an area of decline instead. 

As societies grow wealthier, communities change – technology disrupts gradually and in ways that turn the world upside down. Both good and bad. We don't need our neighbours like we did before...families break up, or move away. Is this a good way to live?

More discoveries. When people engage in a group activity for leisure - whether it's sewing, gardening, making art, not only is it an excuse to get out of the house - we come across people that we'd never normally meet. New friendships are made, information gets shared. We're not isolated any more. Perceptions change about our neighbourhood and each other.

There's something magical about creating something with your hands. Sewing is like meditation. 

Someone said to me, "By coming here, I'm noticing more things about Maindee...just from looking at patterns and colours in the street...I was so unobservant before."

"Community House is a lifeline to me. So many happy memories. It stops me feeling lonely and gets me out of the house."

As each day passes, as I'm walking here and there...I'm seeing the weeds and strange little plants that hang onto brickwork for dear life differently, imagining what stitch to use, how thick the thread should be, what colour to choose. I feel like I'm coming out of my shell a bit more – losing that self-conscious feeling being the centre of attention when I need the group to become quiet so that I can explain something. I'm losing that feeling of suddenly being self-conscious mid-sentence and if I do, I can push it away. 

When I started the project back in April, I had a 'vision' of it, of course – but I had no idea how it would take shape. I've given more hours than I should have – Everyone has. I've gained confidence in my abilities to co-ordinate it and that takes some doing considering how many people are involved. Delegating. Trusting. Asking for help. It's thinking, "We can do this in the time that we have ...and it's going to be great."

This is the story-board for the project. Keeps us on track!



All the dishes are homemade! Bara brith next to spicy samosas and scones.








An extract from a poem Cyril Summers wrote.



Sandra explains how she's loved sharing her embroidery expertise with us.


Maindee Library gets the treatment. It's a precious place, run by volunteers.









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