Back in the 1980’s I was a young seafarer. The habit of seafarers is generally to frequent bars that have been recommended by other seafarers. These bars and clubs were places where people of all nationalities could meet and have a good time. I visited many of them in the UK and abroad. When drink began to flow, conversations would start. Generally the first question would be ‘where are you from?’ I would say, Middlesbrough and the person I was speaking to would often smile and reply ‘Club Bongo’. The Bongo had an international reputation amongst the seafaring community. The Bongo was not just a club for seafarers, it was for everyone and was woven into the fabric of Middlesbrough for over 50 years.
I walked out of Middlesbrough railway station today and noticed that the club’s neon sign is looking in very poor condition. I hope that I am wrong but I think it is generally accepted that the club may never reopen.
The Bongo is an important part of Middlesbrough’s social and multicultural history, that alone makes this unique neon sign worth saving and preserving. It could be restored, protected and left in situ as something far more interesting and site-specific than a generic heritage plaque. If this is not possible then it should be removed and placed in a public space where it would serve to remind us all that the Club Bongo International and its founder, Abdillahi Warsama, played an important part in the social history of modern Middlesbrough.
St Hilda’s is the oldest part of Middlesbrough, for most of the life of modern Middlesbrough the area has been known as The Border or Over the Border. The border being the railway track that separates the area from the rest of the town.
The border always had a reputation for being a tough, close-knit community. A few years ago Middlesbrough council launched a redevelopment plan for the area which they renamed Middlehaven. Unfortunately the redevelopment involved the demolition of the existing housing estate and the removal of the small community that lived there.
Some new housing has been built in the area, the development has been labelled ‘The Urban Pioneer Site’. Urban pioneers and ‘Boho Zones’ on a site that has seen continuous habitation for over a thousand years. I wonder if any of the original border families will be given the opportunity to live in these houses, I wonder if they would want to.
The people of Middlesbrough speak with a deep pride and affection for their river but have very little access to it. Walking from the town centre it struck me that the town and its river are detached, other than the lifeless old dock, there is very little accessible river frontage within strolling distance of the town centre. There are two parks that look out over the river but both are hidden away in industrial zones.
The redevelopment of the land around the Middlesbrough Dock continues but the large derelict former industrial site that sits between the dock and the river does not seem to feature in any of the proposed plans for the area.
A new road is currently being built to improve access to the site and there is a plan to build more houses and a snow centre where perhaps former steel workers can start new careers as ski instructors.