Once known for steelmaking and chemical factories, Middlesbrough wants to reinvent itself, and is looking to arts and culture to help.
On Thursday, it hosted the north-east of England’s annual culture awards, run by two local papers; while it will be at the heart of the Tees Valley’s bid to be UK City of Culture in 2025. And this weekend, some of the world’s biggest pop stars will flock there for BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend.
Here, three artists from the town talk about why it deserves a better press, why being far from London provides artistic freedom, and why they are excavating its history and land – literally – for their creative projects.
Making Middlesbrough – the musical
One of acclaimed scriptwriter Ishy Din’s next projects is a stage musical about the fortunes of his home town, beginning when Middlesbrough rapidly expanded during the industrial revolution.
“Sometimes we get a hard time,” he says. “We’re consistently at the top of lists. Bad lists. Worst place to live. Worst place to be a girl. Health. Employment. Education. And I think that’s unfair.”
His musical, Iron and Steel, will show a different view. He’s creating it with actress and producer Victoria Gibson – daughter of Middlesbrough FC chairman Steve – as well as local folk group Cattle & Cane and singer-songwriter Alistair Griffin.
Having a creative career in Middlesbrough has its pros and cons, according to Din, who is also currently working on a play for the Royal Shakespeare Company and has written for Channel 4’s Ackley Bridge.
Living costs are cheaper than London – to where many people move to try to make their names. But he thinks his career would have progressed faster in the capital.
“There aren’t very many of us who have broken through, but in the town there are lots of people and lots of young artists striving to make the leap.”
He credits the council with putting faith in culture to help turn the the town’s fortunes around in the post-industrial age.
“We want to move forward. We want to celebrate the past but embrace the future. And culture is one of the things that will do it.”
Emily Hesse hasn’t just taken inspiration from the Teesside landscape – she has taken the landscape for her art.
She excavated clay from the banks of the River Tees herself, and took a master’s degree in ceramics to learn what to do with it.
She used it in projects including New Linthorpe, for which she set up a community kiln and gave 1,000 members of the public a lump of clay, and taught them basic techniques.
“It’s a very ancient material,” she says. “It embodies and holds within it the experiences of communities and traumas and tragedies as well as what it must have been to have lived here at various points in time.”
For her parents’ generation, art wasn’t usually a career option in Middlesbrough. “Everybody was pretty much just sent into the steelworks, the industry, ICI.”
Hesse didn’t think art was a career option at first either, but when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 19, a consultant encouraged her to “go and have a life”.
“I’m still here and I’m still having a life.”
As well as a sculptor, she’s an author, performer and activist. She published a book last year – her take on being an artist in the north-east, and being sidelined by more visible artists and institutions.
She’s currently writing another book, making a film inspired by matriarchal communities, and organising a symposium for the 30th anniversary of a Middlesbrough exhibition titled Miners.
“Often I’m looking for moments to speak about a history that’s been marginalised,” Hesse says. “That’s the root of my work – however those moments appear.”
Middlesbrough’s lower living costs allow her to do things she couldn’t afford to in London, she says. Like have time to think. It also means she doesn’t need to sell her art.
“If you’re choosing to not produce a commodity, then you have to exist in a different way, and this is a great place to exist outside the capitalist structures of the art world,” she says.
“We know we’re making a sacrifice so we can have that time to think, so we can read a book, so we can produce work, so we can write books.
“We wouldn’t get that anywhere else, and that’s what this town can offer you.”
Keeping the ‘warmth’ and ‘comradeship’ alive
Mackenzie Thorpe is one of Middlesbrough’s most successful artistic exports – his colourful, affectionate paintings are owned by the Queen, JK Rowling and, apparently, Tom Hardy. He’s currently on a world tour to mark his 30 years as an artist.
He doesn’t live in Middlesbrough any more, but in April he returned to unveil a statue next to the famous Transporter Bridge – two children trying to spot their dad among the throng of men who would cross at the end of a shift.
It’s a tribute to Thorpe’s own father, and “a monument to the working man and the working woman”, he says.
Telling the story of the statue, he explains: “All these men come roaring over, and it’s, ‘Have you seen my dad? Where’s my dad? There he is! There he is!’
“And then he comes over and they grab hold of each hand and he turns round and says, ‘Let’s go home’. That warmth that goes through them is something that I really miss.”
Middlesbrough still informs “every aspect” of his work, he says. It’s work that is heavily tinged with nostalgia. If he’s painting children with his trademark flowers and giant hearts, he’s conjuring feelings from his own youth.
“In my mind, all I can see is these six-year-old kids running around the street with a busted ball. You think ‘they’ve got nowt’, but we had so much. We were totally happy. It’s looking back in such an affectionate way and wishing I still had that.”
He goes back regularly – but perhaps living elsewhere means it’s easier to draw inspiration from memories of an era when the “comradeship” he often mentions was fostered by the heavy industry the town was built upon.
“It’s because I constantly miss the place and miss what it means to me that keeps it fresh.”
On Thursday when Indian PM Narendra Modi won a landslide victory in the Indian elections, Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and leader of India’s Congress party, emerged at the other end, battered and mauled.
He had been hit with a double whammy – his Congress party won just over 50 seats against the 300 plus that Mr Modi’s BJP got; and if that was not bad enough, he also lost his own seat in the family bastion of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
He will still sit in the parliament though because this time he contested from a second seat – Wayanad in Kerala – which he won. But Amethi was a prestige battle – it was the seat from where both his parents – Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi – had contested and won in the past and he himself had held it for the past 15 years.
He is also part of the ultimate political dynasty. His great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first and longest-serving prime minister of India. His grandmother, Indira Gandhi, was the first female prime minister of the country, and his father was India’s youngest prime minister.
Not many were expecting an outright win for the Congress, but they were definitely expected to do better. That’s why Thursday’s results have come as a surprise to many inside and outside the party.
On Thursday evening, Mr Gandhi addressed a press conference in Delhi where he conceded the election to Mr Modi saying the people had given their mandate and chosen the BJP and took full responsibility for the Congress party’s defeat.
And even though counting was not over in Amethi with more than 300,000 votes yet to be counted, he conceded the constituency to BJP’s Smriti Irani who was leading at the time with just over 30,000 votes.
“I want to congratulate her. She has won, it’s a democracy and I respect the decision of people,” he said.
Refusing to give further details about the Congress performance or what would come next, Mr Gandhi said it would all be discussed in the meeting of the Congress Working Committee, the party’s top decision-making body.
He also told the Congress workers, the ones who lost and the ones who won, not to lose hope. “There is no need to be afraid. We will continue to work hard and we will eventually win.”
Uttar Pradesh is the state considered the ground zero of Indian politics. It’s generally believed that whoever wins India’s most populous state, rules the country.
Eight of 14 Indian prime ministers – including Mr Gandhi’s great grandfather, grandmother and father – were from the state, which elects the largest number of MPs – 80 out of a 545-member lower house. PM Narendra Modi, who’s originally from Gujarat, also chose Uttar Pradesh to make his debut as an MP in 2014 when he contested from the ancient city of Varanasi.
At the Congress office here, the future victory that Mr Gandhi promised seemed like a distant dream to the handful of despondent party workers, glued to a TV screen, watching the bloodbath unfold as several party veterans lost their seats.
“Our credibility is very low. People have no faith in our promises. They are not trusting what we are saying,” one party official who didn’t want to be named told me.
“Mr Modi failed to fulfil the commitments he made, but people still believe him.”
The dismal performance of the Congress is bound to raise questions over Mr Gandhi’s leadership and many analysts are already calling for a change, demanding that he step down from the top party post. But all such calls, like in the past, have come from outside the party and are likely to be rejected by the party leadership.
As rumours swirled around in Delhi that Mr Gandhi had offered to quit, Congress politician Mani Shankar Aiyar told BBC Hindi that “Congress will not question its leadership and [will] not accept Mr Gandhi’s resignation were he to offer it”.
He added that the leadership was not the reason for the party’s resounding defeat. “It’s the other reasons we need to work on,” he said.
A local party spokesman in Lucknow, Brijendra Kumar Singh, explained that, in their view, the problem was not with Gandhi power, but with party infighting and poor campaign choices.
“There are weaknesses in the party structure, there’s infighting within the ranks, we were late getting off the ground with our campaign, and our attempts – though unsuccessful – to join the alliance of regional parties in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were a bad idea.”
The biggest roadblock in their way, everyone agrees, was “Brand Modi”.
“Even though the prime minister failed to fulfil the promises he made in the last election, he’s still able to convince people about the policies of his government,” Mr Singh says.
This is not the first time Mr Gandhi has received such a battering at Mr Modi’s hands – he was all but written off after the party’s worst ever performance in the 2014 elections when they won only 44 seats.
Subsequently, the party also lost several state elections and Mr Gandhi was criticised for being “remote and inaccessible” and was ridiculed on social media as a bumbling, clueless leader prone to gaffes.
He was also criticised by many for his dynastic links to the Nehru-Gandhi family and PM Modi, who comes from a humble background, has repeatedly said that he had risen to the top not on merit, but because of family connections.
But in the past two years, Mr Gandhi’s career graph had begun to improve: he’d emerged from the shadows, his social media campaigns became smarter and he began arguing convincingly about the government’s controversial currency ban, a lack of employment opportunities, growing intolerance in the country and the slowdown in the economy.
He was increasingly seen as setting the agenda with a combative campaign and in December when he led the Congress to victory in important state elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, many said he had brought the party back into the reckoning.
And then in February, when his charismatic sister Priyanka Gandhi joined him to help his hand in Uttar Pradesh, it seemed like the Gandhis were on to something.
“If you look at our manifesto, it’s the best. The policies we had announced, the promises we made were top notch. But what we had hoped for from the voters, the support we had hoped for, that didn’t happen,” says state party official Virendra Madan.
Mr Madan says the party leadership in Delhi – as well as the state level – will hold meetings in the next few days to figure out what went wrong. “It’s time for soul searching. To assess where we went wrong.”
But, he says, that no matter how decisive the election result, there’s no question that the party would not stand by its leadership.
“It’s not just Mr Gandhi who’s lost. Lots of other leaders also did not win. And elections come and go, you win some and you lose some. Remember in 1984, BJP was down to just two seats? Didn’t they make a comeback? We will also come back,” he says.
US President Donald Trump has said Huawei could be part of a trade deal between the US and China, despite branding the telecoms firm “very dangerous”.
The US-China trade war has escalated in recent weeks with tariff hikes and threats of more action.
Washington has also targeted Huawei by putting the firm on a trade blacklist.
The US argues Huawei poses a national security risk, while Beijing accuses the US of “bullying” the company.
“Huawei is something that is very dangerous,” Mr Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday.
“You look at what they’ve done from a security standpoint, a military standpoint. Very dangerous.”
Last week, the Trump administration added Huawei – the world’s second largest smartphone maker – to its “entity list”, which bans the company from acquiring technology from US firms without government approval.
But Mr Trump has said it is “possible” that the company could be part of any trade agreement with Beijing.
“If we made a deal, I could imagine Huawei being possibly included in some form or some part of it,” he said.
What are the concerns about Huawei?
Huawei faces a growing backlash from Western countries, led by the US, over possible risks posed by using its products in next-generation 5G mobile networks.
Several countries have raised concerns that Huawei equipment could be used by China for surveillance, allegations the company has vehemently denied.
Huawei has said its work does not pose any threats and that it is independent from the Chinese government.
You asked: Why doesn’t BBC News do more on climate change?
Covering climate change and its impact on people around the world is a top priority for BBC News.
We know climate change is an increasingly important subject. Younger audiences in particular tell us they would like to see more journalism on the issue, the BBC says.
There has been a significant increase in the number and range of stories across our output.
This includes prominent coverage of the latest scientific research, extreme weather events, climate protests, how climate change is affecting people’s lives and the search for solutions to this enormous global challenge.
These stories are resonating with our audiences and it is a subject we are committed to covering in depth across BBC News.
You asked: What if I can’t afford to change my way of life?
Being climate conscious can often feel very expensive, from changing your food habits to buying an electric car.
But there are some things that will save you money – like eating wonky vegetables instead of red meat and cycling to work instead of driving.
And making your home more energy efficient should actually bring down your bills.
Surgeons are warning dog owners not to wrap leads around their fingers or wrist because of the dangers of serious hand injury.
They say thousands of people could be at risk from lacerations, friction burns, fractures and ligament injuries.
There were 30 serious hand injuries caused by dog leads last year in Cornwall alone, the British Society for Surgery of the Hand said.
One of those was to Jillian Tisdale, 65, who has two retrievers.
She had just finished walking one of her dogs when it became distracted by another dog and ran off excitedly on the lead.
The lead ended up wrapped tightly around Jillian’s middle fingers on her right hand, causing severe damage, including the “degloving” of her finger – when the skin and some of the soft tissue are taken off.
She also had serious cuts to her fingers and a dislocation of the index finger.
She said she felt “terrible pain”.
But her main concern was to get it treated in the right way.
“I’ve fortunately regained the full use of my hand – so I can enjoy playing with my grandchildren, as well as hobbies including diving, mountain climbing, and even dog-walking again.”
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE OF FINGER INJURY FOLLOWS BELOW
Jillian was treated by consultant surgeon Rebecca Dunlop, from Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, who also collected the data on hand injuries from dog leads.
She said she had noticed an increase in this type of “devastating” injury in recent years, which can need long-term treatment and means the fingers often do not return to normal.
Mrs Dunlop said: “Having seen many serious injuries caused by dog leads and collars, I want dog lovers to be aware of the simple steps they can take to avoid severe damage to their hand.”
She said hand injuries could also be very costly “through time off work and medical costs”.
To avoid injury, dog owners should:
avoid hooking fingers under a dog’s collar
not wind the lead around their hand – use a retractable lead instead
only use retractable leads in open spaces because they can also wrap around legs, trees and furniture
keep larger dogs on a shorter lead to avoid them building up speed
A significant increase in mumps cases and continuing outbreaks of measles in England have led to calls for people to ensure they are immunised.
Public Health England said even one person missing their vaccinations was “too many”.
There were 795 cases of mumps in the first three months of 2019, compared with 1,031 in the whole of 2018.
Most mumps cases are linked to teenagers mixing when they go to university.
A large outbreak was centred on Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham at the beginning of the year and similar increases in cases have been reported in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Dr Ramsay added: “Measles can kill and it is incredibly easy to catch, especially if you are not vaccinated.
“Even one child missing their vaccine is one too many – if you are in any doubt about your child’s vaccination status, ask your GP as it’s never too late to get protected.”
Helen Bedford, professor of child public health at UCL, said: “Measles is a highly infectious, potentially serious disease and England has not escaped the recent increase in cases we have seen globally.
“If you are unvaccinated or in doubt about whether you are protected, contact your GP practice.”
The thick layer of mud which buried 270 people in Brumadinho has barely dried. Certainly, the scars of Brazil’s worst mining disaster are still raw.
Yet, within just four months, another community in the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais faces being obliterated from the map by a torrent of mining waste.
The monitors in the hastily-assembled civil defence headquarters in Barão de Cocais display real-time images of the stricken mine, Gongo Soco, and the associated Sul Superior dam about 1.5 km (one mile) from it.
“The wall of the Gongo Soco mine could rupture any day,” says José Ocimar of the civil defence authority. “That could create an impact and a vibration which could trigger the collapse of the dam below.”
“We can’t be completely sure of what’s going to happen but we’re taking the necessary precautions to prevent the loss of human life,” insists Mr Ocimar.
The small mining town of Barão de Cocais of some 30,000 residents lies in the path of the potential mudslide. Dotted around the quiet central plaza are the details which show that something is amiss.
The pavements of the streets inside the flood zone have been painted orange. Some shops, banks and even the post office have been closed for days, and an evacuation route has been marked out with signs.
The firm has traditionally been a source of work in Barão de Cocais but people are angry at what they see as its relentless pursuit of profit.
“I’m afraid I don’t have a good impression of Vale,” says Gilmar dos Santos, a car mechanic. “It seems the company put their profits above everything else. People’s lives are just not a priority.”
Mr Santos is worried about his family’s ability to flee in a hurry. His elderly parents are particularly vulnerable.
We walk to a nearby house to visit his mother, Cilta Maria, as she waters the orchids in her garden. A vigorous woman in her 80s, she admits she would have real difficulty in evacuating the home she has lived in for 48 years.
“I’m trying to stay calm. We get apprehensive and worried so every night one of my kids comes to sleep here. If something happens, they’re already here. But it’s hard.”
This is not least because her husband, Raimundo, has advanced stage Alzheimer’s. He sits smiling passively into the mid-distance, unaware of the impending disaster threatening his town.
Cilta Maria resents having to go through this at their age. “We never thought this would happen here in Barão. They told us the mine was development, was progress. And now I guess we’re suffering the consequences.”
Meanwhile, for the family members of the victims of Brumadinho, watching the crisis unfold at Gongo Soco has caused new distress. For them, it is evidence that nothing has been learned from the deaths of their loved ones just weeks ago.
Rimarque Cangussu’s daughter, Marcelle Porto, was a doctor working in Brumadinho at the time and the first victim to be formally identified. “It was a terrible, overwhelming blow, a loss that I’ll never recover from,” says Mr Cangussu, a civil engineer, adding that there is a pattern of negligence taking place.
He points to the collapse at a Vale mining dam in Mariana in 2015, Brazil’s worst environmental disaster. To the questionable mining practices and poor safety standards at Brumadinho. To the assurances given by Vale, the state and federal government that changes would be made to prevent a repeat.
None of it, he says, has made the slightest difference.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a similar tragedy in Barão de Cocais. It is a sensation of impotence, indignation and dismay that things don’t work as they should.”
Comedian Mae Martin has made a career from wearing her heart on her sleeve.
Her colourful life has served as a launch pad for her two biggest stand-up shows Us and Dope and their spin-off podcasts for Radio 4.
Where Us explored sexuality and society’s impulse to define people by who they sleep with, Dope delved into the nature of addiction in all its guises, including love itself.
Now she’s merged these themes in a book for teens called Can Everyone Please Calm Down? (its subtitle – A Guide to 21st Century Sexuality – taken from her podcast of the same name).
“I wanted to write a book that I would have found helpful when I was 14 and approach the subject of sexuality, which these days can seem so fraught and serious and weighed down in debate, with humour and a lighter touch,” explains 32-year-old Martin.
“Sex, dating, love, discovering what turns us on, that’s all meant to be fun and exciting and I worry that sometimes for young people, when these things are tied up with the stress of coming out or the pain of discrimination, or are overly politicised, you can lose out on the fun and joy of those early experiences.”
With her characteristically jaunty and self-depreciating style, Martin uses a blend of personal anecdotes, embarrassing teen stories and social commentary to show young people it’s OK to be attracted to whoever they want.
Sexuality can be on a “spectrum”, it can be fluid, says Martin. She enlists, by way of example, the help of the ancient Romans and Chinese.
She also cites celebrities, from Marlon Brando to Miley Cyrus, as being among those who reject defining their sexual preferences.
The background to all this is that, although Martin is open about dating both men and women, she has also stood her ground on not being sorted into any one tidy LBGT box. She’s less concerned by a person’s gender than their talent for diving or winking.
But that hasn’t stopped people trying.
Even her very first comedy review carried the headline “Introducing Gay Mae”. The basis for this, one can only assume, was her cropped hair and androgynous dress.
“It was a shock to the system because I’d always been just ‘Mae’ in my family. I was really lucky,” says Martin.
Martin says she understands the importance of “labelling in terms of community, fighting discrimination and communicating ideas”.
“But there’s a difference between self-identifying proudly, versus feeling pressure to do so because other people are confused and want to label you based on assumptions they’ve made, without your consent,” she adds.
“I do hope we’re moving toward a place where people feel less pressure to label something as complex, dynamic and downright mysterious as who we fall in love with. A huge percentage of young people today no longer identify as gay or straight, and I think that’s progress.
“I’m attracted to funny people with nice hands who smell good and are kind to people. I’m attracted to people of all genders… But I’d rather just be a person in the world.”
Martin has faced homophobia. An example she’s recounted in her sets is when a group of girls became abusive in a pub when she used the women’s toilets.
Martin says she tries to rise above such experiences.
“I have the armour of self-worth that comes from having open-minded parents who felt there was nothing wrong with me,” she says.
“But for sure, the constant onslaught of questions about my gender and occasional homophobic abuse does chip away at that armour. In general though I’m a happy person and get on with things.”
Martin lives in London but grew up in Toronto and her “absolute legend” parents Wendy and James brought her up in what she calls a “liberal utopia”.
When she was five, they taught her the “birds and bees” and that an orgasm was like an “explosion of rainbows”.
They never questioned her various crushes, including Bette Midler (still ongoing), Frank N. Furter (aka Tim Curry) from the Rocky Horror Picture Show), and the candlestick Lumiere from Beauty and Beast.
Her father walked around the house naked, as did Mae every Christmas Day until the age of 11.
Kept on what Martin describes as a “long leash”, she indulged her love of Midler to the point of obsession, seeing Hocus Pocus 10 times at the age of six and plastering her bedroom with her image.
Later, from 11, it was stand-up that became all-consuming – and, as it turned out, self-destructive. Hooked after seeing just one show, Martin was at the local club four or five times a week.
The adult comics made her feel it was OK to be a “weird” but these new “friends” got her hooked on drugs. She found herself dropping out of school and into rehab, only afterwards finding the equilibrium to change comedy into a personal force for good.
Now “comedy, therapy, friendship, crisps and perspective – trying to think about how everyone else is feeling”, are Martin’s methods for keeping on an even keel.
“It’s definitely therapeutic to say out loud (on stage) things that you’re embarrassed about or your fears and have everybody go ‘oh my god, me too!’
“Making someone laugh is a good way to get their defences down so that they might then be open to new ideas, especially when they’re laughing at some common ground they relate to. Comedy’s always been an amazing tool for social change.
“I’d love to write more observational comedy but the stuff people seem to respond to is the most personal so it’s snowballed from there.”
If that’s the case then Martin’s next project looks likely to do well. She’s in the midst of filming a comedy drama for E4 and Netflix, which is again “semi-autobiographical”.
The working title is Mae and George and co-stars Lisa Kudrow, of Friends fame, as Mae’s force-of-nature mum.
“It’s about love and addiction and where those two things intersect, what’s healthy [and not]. It’s really just a love story that I hope people really get on board with and connect with,” says Martin.
“My character struggles with things that I struggle with – addiction, relationships, romanticism – but dialled up to 100 so she has a much more tenuous control of her vices than I currently do. I’m doing OK and my character is hanging on by a thread.”
After that, she’s back gigging in London in June. So does she worry about running out of material – and steam?
“For sure, but life is infinitely rich,” says Martin. “And I remind myself every morning to immediately have a massive breakfast – everything feels scarier when you’re hungry.”