Cultural Cohesion – that’s Real Stockton

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Sometimes we can’t see the wood for the trees.

We don’t see a lot of the idiosyncrasies of our local culture as we are in it; living it, breathing it, immersed in it.  It is rendered invisible, as just ‘the way things are’ for eating, talking, dressing, laughing, working, living and loving.

Have you ever been on holiday and no-one understands you- then you hear a voice, recognising its words or accent?  The unlikeliest of friendships sparking up as people are so comforted by a commonality in a landscape of difference? (I still do this here in Stockton when I hear a more Northern twang to an accent and I’m only from 30 odd miles away from where I started).

What if you moved to Stockton and you were from further than 30 odd miles away? If in your culture when you went for a job interview it was a sign of great arrogance to look a job interviewer in the eye? If part of your wedding preparations involved going to a fattening room in the run up to the ceremony? There are countless little tells and understandings we have that we use to all rub along together and to foster senses of commonality.

There was a post doing the rounds of Facebook recently of Boro talk- a guide to local language- a word on there I understood from my more Northern cultural learning as a sign of great cheer was apparently an insult in Boro speak… I’ve been using it for the 5 years I’ve been here.  I now have no idea how many people I have offended!

This is where Sade Sangowawa comes in.  She knows a thing or two about cultural differences.  Originally from Nigeria, she lived in the metropolis of London for many years before moving to Middlesbrough then Stockton.

She runs Cultures Community Interest Company (CIC) a social enterprise on Dovecot Street.  It’s a space for those from other cultures to gain advocacy, support, advice and information.  It’s a hub of vibrancy, interest, community, education and understanding.. and really nice food!

Cultures is based in a magnificent building, possibly the old General Post Office they believe due to the black and white tiles in the foyer, at 66 Dovecot Street next door to The Storytellers.

The building holds host to a plethora of opportunities and events for everyone.

There is a cafe, open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays 9am-3pm serving a full menu of snacks, lunches and dinners and hot and cold drinks. I’m planning on going back for the Jamaican Curry this weekend and I can tell you I’m pretty excited about it.  In a space flooded with light and colour, with quirky and comfy furniture, it’s a great spot to catch up with friends and relax.  They even offer student special offers and discounts.

The great food is also on offer to those who take up the internal catering option when hiring the room spaces for business conferences and meetings or even private events such as Christenings or parties.  All have been hosted successfully here.

This Saturday 15 March sees the launch of a reading and writing group, supported by local schools and assisted by a committed team of volunteers from Durham University Queen’s Campus (although they are always looking for more).  From that launch a homework club will then go on to meet regularly in the cafe, every Thursday from 4-6pm.   This has been developed following a hugely successful initiative already run by Sade in Middlesbrough, the alumni from which, young black people who were searching for the opportunity to define themselves on their own terms not simply in line with the stereotypes attributed to them,  are still in contact with each other and Sade.

Cultures offers job search, CV and interview technique course and English tutoring.  They provide counselling to those who require it.  They also offer great fun groups for learning Salsa dancing, Zumba, Exotic Cookery, Beauty and Sewing.  A women’s co-operative is in development for a catering enterprise to offer business opportunities for those who would not feel confident enough to set up alone.  They offer social cohesion for us all through a hand of friendship, solidarity and support to those in the BME, refugee and immigrant communities.

Sade learnt the hard way that understanding the small cultural differences can mean the difference between a business failure and success and being successful in interview and not.  Pooling that life experience with her significant academic background she has created exceptional courses and opportunities for inclusion.  These are delivered to those who wish to be included and participate but also aimed at those who may be unwittingly doing the excluding! She delivers courses to all public sector and private sector organisations with front facing staff who need to understand to ensure we all have the opportunities to fulfill our potential.

Difference is dynamic and being dynamic makes us strong. There was so so much more than I could say about Sade and Cultures CIC – they have some amazing events planned so I hope to return for another piece later in the year.  In the meantime you can find out more by liking Cultures on Facebook here.  Their twitter feed is here.  Or indeed their website is here. Or just go! The coffee is great and a large cup of tea and a slice of cake is only £2.50!!

Embracing cultural difference, celebrating and recognising diversity and welcoming all – that’s Real Stockton.