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The first time I went to Scunthorpe, I was looking after a cheesy rock band who played the old Scunthorpe Baths to a disinterested audience of three apathetic men who hadn’t even bothered to boost their numbers by bringing a dog. To put the icing on the cake, we had a long drive home and the bassist threw up in the van somewhere near Derby. It was an evening as far removed from the tawdry glamour of rock’n’roll as it’s possible to get.
Last week I went up to Scunthorpe again – this time to read my poetry – and was blown away by what I found.
The gig had come about in the way these things so often do. A friend said You should play Scunthorpe and pointed me at an arts venue. I contacted them. They were closed for re-furbishment, and couldn’t help, but suggested I try A new venue in town. They put on acoustic stuff. They’re pretty cool. One email and a couple of phone calls later and the gig was on. This new, cool venue had never put on a spoken-word event before, but they liked the idea of doing it, and I liked the idea of going somewhere new, and we agreed a date and I put it in the diary. When the day came, I got on the motorbike and headed north into the unknown, wondering what I’d let myself in for.
What I’d let myself in for was an education.
If ever you want to see what a small group of determined and imaginative people can achieve when they put their minds to it, do yourselves a favour. Go to Scunthorpe, and pop into Café Indiependent. In a previous life, the café was a Co-op shop, but now – with funding secured from the lottery gods, and a lot of hard work – it’s been transformed into an impossibly cool and funky venue halfway up the High Street. It’s way bigger than you might expect. It serves great coffee and good food. It’s hip in a way Hoxton can only dream of. It’s all this and more.
And it’s the ‘more’ which blew my mind.
See, it shouldn’t be that difficult to create a world where all towns have their own Café Indiependent. Cafés which run ‘suspended coffee’ schemes for homeless people, employ youth workers, put on training courses, offer somewhere for acoustic musicians to play, and nurture the art and the dreams and the creativity of anyone and everyone who comes in. Because Scunthorpe has shown it can be done. It’s shown that you don’t have to leave a small town for the big city just because you want something more than what’s traditionally been on offer. Instead, you bring it to your town. And – with determination, and imagination, and a lot of hard work – you create something utterly amazing.
The gig? It couldn’t have gone better. At the end of the night, I curled up on a sofa in the venue under my bike jacket and slept like a king. Next morning I lay there thinking how – almost without exception – the most memorable and enjoyable gigs are the ones I go to on a wing and a prayer, and come back from feeling humbled and inspired and incredibly lucky to have done. This was one of them.
One day every town will be like you, Scunthorpe. Thank you. And all the very best.