Sunday, 13 December 2009

Soup kitchen

Sunday 13th December
The soup seems to be working its magic - though I won't be giving up the day job as yet. Cockermouth businesses are in the recovery position - working together to lessen the impact of anything that might hit us.
A Guardian journalist came to the gallery on Tuesday and sampled the magic soup (tomato, basil and secret ingredients). On Thursday there was this brilliant 3rd leader in his paper which probably wasn't anything to do with it but was very heartening. The high profile politicians and VIPs may have gone but we are definitely not yesterday's news.
He wrote
Cumbria has given the world the best in scientists, comedians and of course poets, but a prime minister has yet to come out of its beautiful landscape. Perhaps one is in waiting among the young people who have witnessed, and are taking part in, an exemplary expression of civic virtue which has followed November's floods. A bridge has been built in a week at Workington, a railway halt in a weekend. Devastated shops in Cockermouth have relocated to the town's auction mart, taking their Main Street signs along with them. The strength of the response has been partly a matter of efficiency by all the agencies involved, but it owes more to Cumbrians' priorities. They drew on their own strength first . The yellow jackets of Churches Together volunteers were on the streets almost as quickly as the orange ones of the emergency services. Only later came the justified request for extra government funding. The money was offered with enthusiasm because so much self help had already been shown. The long haul back to normality remains a test, but Cumbrians in the Northside community centre at Workington, or Cockermouth's temporary surgeries, are planning long term. Shallow obituarists of broken Britain should visit the county to learn these wholesome lessons (as should anyone else within reach, to do their Christmas shopping). The county council's motto Ad montes oculos levavi strictly means "I shall lift up mine eyes to the hills". It might be better translated as "Looking out for one another".

It has been a good weekend. The feeling of support from far and wide is wonderful. We sold paintings, we sold books in exchange for tea and soup and a place by the warm fire. People came to the gallery from the North East, Manchester and London and they came to spend money in the town. This is not easy (well spending money is) but it's not as easy in a wrecked town as going on the internet or a one-stop shopping mall but you have no idea the difference it makes to us all here. Main Street at Mitchells is buzzing and the warehouse round the corner is miraculously almost fitted out with loads of small units. The shop signs are going up. People visiting for the first time since the floods were deeply shocked at the level and extent of the damage.
And the drying out process just keeps going. The Main street is an anthill of activity. We are all making things happen rather than waiting for somebody to do something. The support agencies are there for us and the bridge builders in every sense of the word are doing their best. We none of us realised how utterly important bridges are. We took them for granted until we lost them. We drove over some of them without realising we were even on a bridge. To lose one bridge is inconvenient, two is unfortunate, but the number we have lost is catastrophic and life changing. My six mile, ten minute drive to the gallery from home is now a twenty two mile trek (with temporary traffic lights and a four mile contra flow system) stretching it to at least forty minutes on a good day.
But none of us is disheartened. Our communities are not divided - we are working together for the greater good. Just keep on coming - we need you to keep the town alive.