Ty Pawb – A Souvenir for Wrexham
I am one of six artist who have been chosen to make a souvenir for a project in Wrexham, North Wales. It is to be a souvenir based on a story that was chosen by public vote.
This was the story selected for me to illustrate –
Dydd Llun Pawb Story 25: Croeso i Wrecsam: Welcoming the World
Wrexham has always been an international town. Its markets and heavy industries have attracted traders and workers from across the globe for centuries, and our historic monuments and beautiful countryside bring thousands to the area each year. Tourism is now worth over £115 Million each year to the local economy, and to this day the town remains richly diverse.
The warm, friendly, Wrexham welcome is something many people have shared with us as something they love about the place. And there is no greater advocate than Gaye, a Wrexham resident for the past quarter of a century, who shared her story with us. Gaye has always worked tirelessly to support the health and wellbeing of the whole community in Wrexham, particularly those in greatest need. This has included, amongst many other things, volunteering with Women’s Aid, helping to establish a ‘Free Stall’ within the People’s Market, running her own successful non-for-profit holistic therapy business ‘Rainbow Therapies’ from 2000 – 2012, and campaigning to protect the environment.
Since 1994 Gaye and her family have also opened their doors to share their home with many of our international visitors. Over 300 guests have stayed with Gaye, from over 30 countries and 5 continents, from Guatemala to Iran, and Australia to Zimbabwe! As Gaye told us …
“People travel to Wrexham to work, including many doctors and nurses, others to study, and yet more to visit and explore. It’s always a pleasure to share the customs, culture and experiences of our international guests, and after only a few days here, they always comment on the welcome they receive here being a really special one.”
I used to live near Wrexham, I went to college there for a time. So I know the area, or at least I did. Some things have changed and others stay the same. But it has been interesting to re-acquaint myself with the town in which I spent many Saturdays record shopping and generally ‘staying out of trouble’ as a teenager.
I must say, that out of all the qualities Wrexham has to offer, I would never have envisaged it as multi-cultural and diverse. Probably as my time in the town was back in the 90s. Times have changed, and for this aspect of the town, this is no doubt for the better. I now live in London in one of the most diverse communities of the city and so was somewhat skeptical about what I would find in this small Welsh town, far away from the bright lights and surrounded by the beautiful Clwyd countryside. How on earth was this going to pan out?
I started my research by going to visit Gabrielle or Gaye, the inspiration for the story. I interrupted her Christmas time by landing on her doorstep on the 29th December, Gabrielle didn’t bat an eyelid. She explained how she is used to people coming and going, that her house was a welcoming, open place to all. Oh and what a house! Full to the brim with wonderful colour and artefacts, art pieces and souvenirs. Every nook and cranny seemed to celebrate culture, creativity and the wonders of the world. No surprise was it to me that it entirely reflected Gabrielle’s wonderful welcoming personality.
We chatted over tea, as she explained how her daughter had just arrived back from Morocco with two new family members – a newly born baby and a dog! The charitable, welcoming and mothering instincts obviously run in the family. Gabrielle told me about the work that she had done for charity, about her belief in holistic care and that she had run workshops and helped people locally who would never have access to such treatment. She also has people stay in her home. People from all over the world. Adults and kids, workers and students, people from every corner of the globe, each with their own story and each leaving messages and gifts of gratitude for the warmth and by all accounts wonderful food that Gabrielle and her family have offered them. Reading her guest book, it just seemed like she has an ever increasing world wide family.
After leaving Gabrielle, I was finding it hard to put my finger on a story, something physical that illustrated the way Wrexham welcomes people from around the world. I was struck and inspired by Gaye’s attitude to life, thinking of all people as extended family. I decided that I would take inspiration from her kindness and willingness to accept and welcome people from all around the world.
Scouring the internet world for stories, I came across Bellevue Football Club. Now I am certainly not one for football. I’ve always thought it a divisive sport. Even the sound of a football crowd conjures up thoughts of division, tribal chanting and being enemies with your neighbours because they support the blues. But yet again I was about to have all my preconceptions blown out of the water.
Delwyn Derrick or ‘Sheep’ as he’s known by his team is the manager of Bellevue and because of this has become a very busy man. He has that same welcoming quality that I saw in Gabrielle. I contacted him through the magical world of Facebook to find out more about the club and to see if they would be willing for me to meet them and see what it’s all about. Bellevue is an ‘inclusive’ football club. I’m not sure I like the word ‘inclusive’ just because it’s batted around so much, like it’s some kind buzz word or box ticked on a council funding application form. This is more organic, more natural, like the thing that brings the team together and makes them stronger is the fact that each player is so individual. The team is made up of lads from every walk of life, from all over the world and from a plethora of backgrounds. “I have an Iraqi Kurd refugee, an Eritrean refugee, a Portuguese economic migrant, hopefully a Polish economic migrant which was forced migration when his parents moved here… I also have a 15 year old British lad who’s been bullied over his height and weight, and an English chap who’s in the mental health care system up here” Delwyn explained.
Bellevue started as many of these things do, small. A kick about in Bellevue Park in Wrexham. Some of the team players saw the games as they walked past on their way home and asked if they could join in. The team got bigger and officially started in March 2017 on a budget of £47 and were accepted into the North East Wales league in April. “We are proud to be the only team for foreign nationals competing at this level.” Bellevue is always training and recruiting new players.
After a hap hazard online group chat introduction to some of the team, that felt a bit like walking into a virtual lads locker room (those boys sure have the banter) I was invited to come and meet them out on the pitch.
On a very cold January Sunday, I landed in Wrexham and walked into Bellevue Park to see the boys setting up for a ‘Meet the Sponsors’ kick about. Considering the freezing temperatures and the mud, the boys were on amazingly good humour and I could already tell that there was a special relationship between them all. Why else would they be turning up on a drab Sunday to run about in shorts? I can’t think of anything worse! One of the boys even had a serious knee injury, but it was impossible for him not to be on the pitch! There was true love and dedication between them all.
I managed to have a chat with some of the boys between games. I was told about how they became players, some through friends, others as I said just through walking by and chatting to Delwyn and the team. They all told me how much the club meant to them. One even told me how the game had saved his life. The fact that these boys from all over the world, of different ages and completely different backgrounds, some with unimaginable histories, got on like a family, with the banter and the usual laddish piss taking was so wonderfully normal – normal in a sense that you would expect it from any football team, was an inspiration. No comfort blankets, no ‘special’ treatment, just lads being lads. They weren’t talking about their differences and their troubles, they were laughing at each other and talking about girls and wearing sunglasses on the grimmest winter day. They were laughing about throwing mayonnaise at each other, and their need for pizza after a game. It was no different, but that, if it makes any sense, is what made it so special.
I left Bellevue full of a variety of emotions. Encouraged, inspired, confused (about how I was going to make this into a souvenir) but all in all reassured that lads are lads wherever and whatever their background. Football was the key and catalyst for something wonderful, a way that young boys can just get together, have a laugh, keep fit and work towards a common goal (apologies for the pun)
Now was time to consider how I to turn all this into a souvenir.