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CELEBRATING HEROS: Albert Park huge portraits

CELEBRATING HEROS: Albert Park huge portraits

Kim May of Streets Ahead with her portrait, Image: LDRS

If you have been to Albert Park recently, you may have seen the huge portraits celebrating the heroes that have made a massive difference to others peoples’ lives in their communities.

It is all part of the Seeds of Hope exhibition which showcases local people who have committed selfless acts of kindness.

Those who were chosen were photographed by award-winning Portrait of Britain 2020 photographer Joanne Coates.

Councillor Mieka Smiles, Middlesbrough’s Deputy Mayor and Executive member for Culture & Communities, said: “It’s brilliant to see some of our true community heroes gain recognition for the amazing work they do for the people of Middlesbrough, which all too often goes unrecognised.”

Read on to meet two of the heroes featured in this exhibition.

John Kabuye, Ubuntu Centre


John Kabuye of the Ubuntu Centre with his portrait, Image: LDRS

John Kabuye had been planning the Ubuntu Centre for a while but the Covid pandemic made the need for it even more urgent.

Talking about the centre’s name, John, 46, said: “Ubuntu, as a name, means to look after your neighbour, your friend, your brother, everyone.”

For his community in Newport and the central areas of Middlesbrough, that’s what John, who is a proud community leader, school governor and a maths lecturer, has worked tirelessly to do throughout the pandemic.

He said: “The need at that time was food parcels, so as the new Ubuntu Centre team we organised food parcels for Middlesbrough and Stockton.

“Many of our community members were furloughed. Many of the community members don’t have families around here that they could ring and say, ‘Can I have dinner or food’.

“But our community members didn’t want food parcels. The reason behind it, from my perspective as an African person and an African man, I don’t want free things, I want work and if someone gives me something for free I feel like I am losing my dignity.

“So when I took this on I said that there is no need to suffer in silence.”

The centre has now amended its approach and they have an eco shop where people pay £2 and they get food which is donated from Fare Share an organisation working to feed disadvantaged people while reducing food waste.

John, who left Uganda in 2000 and has lived in Middlesbrough since 2004, wanted to make a place where people from the Black and other minority communities could go to receive support in a place that they felt comfortable.

Therefore, the centre does much more than provide food and is a one-stop-shop for people to receive advice and be helped by someone who they can relate to.

John added: ”I wanted the centre to be in the community and I wanted it to be around Newport so I got a space right in the Newport area in Gresham very close to central.

“We are there to help our community understand that it [the centre] is there for people to come, talk, and be without fear.

“I want the centre to be Black-led so we can talk to people through our own experience because I know what I am talking about when I talk to them.”

While the centre supports around 90 people directly, John said that it actually helps many more as the advice and guidance provided is useful for entire families.

Speaking about his portrait in Albert Park, John said: “It’s fantastic, it’s good to be recognised and it’s in a public place where everyone can see you, it’s wonderful.”

He has hopes for the centre to expand and he’d also like to use his skills as a maths lecturer at Stockton College to teach people at the community space.

As a former council candidate in the Newport ward, he has also not bowed out of dipping his toes into local politics once again.

He added: “We need to lead and be part of everything, rather than being on the sidelines and complaining.

“I feel like we need to lead from the front, I would stand again, yes something has to be done, to show our children who are looking up to us. I am not shying away from that [elections], I would do it again.”

Kim May, Streets Ahead


Kim May of Streets Ahead with her portrait, Image: LDRS

Kim May started at Streets Ahead as a project manager in 2006 on a three-year contract but has remained there ever since, saying that it is the people who have made all the difference.

She said: “We have good days and we have bad days but we have more good days than bad days and you do go home thinking, ‘yep, I have just made a little bit of a difference’, which makes it all the more worthwhile.”

Like the Ubuntu Centre, Streets Ahead has also been providing £2 food packages throughout the pandemic as well as working to ensure people don’t feel so isolated.

Kim, 61, added: ”It’s a stand-alone charity and we provide any services that people in the Newport/Gresham area need. It’s a one-stop residents drop-in centre, the first point of contact if they need to know anything.

“We do things like park walk, creativity sessions, English classes, and we are looking at support for Afghan refugees who could be coming to Middlesbrough.

“We also run a gardening competition, Gresham in bloom and that’s people’s back alleys and gardens.”

It is also planning tea and tech sessions to help those who are either complete beginners or want to improve at using technology.

The community space has also just received National Lottery Funding for three more years.

Kim added: “When we were going round residents and saying that we are going for lottery funding and when we got it people were saying, ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t know what I would do if you weren’t here’. So people really do rely on us.”

Known as the ‘blue shutter shop’, one of the key aims of the organisation is to get everyone to feel part of a community and make sure there are good relationships between people.

At one of the charity’s park walks, where people meet up for a stroll around Albert Park, one of the walkers made the group do a detour when the images first went up.

Kim was shocked the first time she saw how large the photos were.

She added: “It was lovely, it was all just very softly, softly, I don’t think we all quite understood that there were going to be huge pictures in Albert Park.

“We knew there was going to be a portrait but I think it grew and the interest grew and grew and the pictures grew at the same time.”

The installation is part of Middlesbrough’s new public art programme, delivered by artist-led organisation Navigator North in partnership with Middlesbrough Council, using Arts Council funding.


Words: Emily Craigie, Local Democracy Reporter

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