Tucked away in the oldest part of Middlesbrough, Base Camp is bringing together the town's artistic communitiy - and it has something for everyone
Inclusive. Diverse. Welcoming.
Just three of the words that describe Base Camp, the Middlesbrough independent arts and music venue that seemingly does it all.
But those words – and hundreds more – might not accurately describe what greets you when you wander just outside the town centre, to historic Middlesbrough.
For there, inside the town’s grand former Post Office building in Exchange Square, is something you won’t find anywhere else in town.
The airy, quirkily-decorated café selling vegan street food, its gig spaces, and its studios for artists and musicians wouldn’t look out of place in Manchester or London.
Head down to the rugged basement, and you could be in a Berlin superclub.
“It definitely has city vibes,” says café supervisor Egypt Clarke, 25. “But big cities aren’t as friendly as we are here!
“Maybe it has felt like we might have attracted the outsiders, because we weren’t right in the hustle and bustle of the town centre, next to other bars.
“But to be honest, we get people from all walks of life, of all ages, it’s such a community, really.”
Live music from the best local bands, beer festivals to vintage markets, children’s yoga, wrestling, life-drawing, accessible cinema – it goes on and on.
Its food menu is made with fresh, local ingredients and the names on the cocktail menu draw inspiration from the local music scene – fitting, as bands practice in Base Camp’s Sidecar Studios.
Even the acclaimed Ali Brownlee Social Club, which started as an online space bringing Teessiders together during lockdown, has chosen Base Camp as its venue offering a safe, family friendly meeting point for Boro fans before home matches at the Riverside.
Whatever your interests – the chances are, Base Camp will offer it.
Sitting down with Egypt, fellow café supervisor Ruby Ramsay and venue manager Kelly Lisle, you sense the enthusiasm and passion.
“I feel like people have found a community to be proud of,” said Kelly, 36.
“People have made friends by coming here, sometimes people come on their own but they know how friendly it is, it’s accessible, people feel welcome. Everyone works hard at that.”
Part of that is its location: “You have to come a bit out of your way to get here, if you come it’s because you wanted to,” said Ruby, 18.
“The word is spreading too – I went to get my Covid vaccine and someone told me they’d been to Base Camp and had a fantastic time. Everyone leaves with a positive image.”
Close to the town’s Boho Zone – a cluster of independent digital businesses – and linked into the town’s ever-growing arts community, the venue seems to represent a new creative vibrancy in the town.
Would it work anywhere else?
“Like Egypt said, Middlesbrough – Teesside – is a friendly place. We’ve developed an atmosphere that’s welcoming, I think. People want to support us.
“Seeing the whole place packed out – there’s no better feeling.”
Carmel Ramsay, co-founder of Base Camp, agrees.
“In the past we might have seen a drain of talent to places like Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester,” she said.
“That’s inevitable, but what I think what we’re seeing now is that a scene is growing organically in Middlesbrough.
“People are staying, some are coming back, others from outside Teesside are relocating here.
“Middlesbrough is more creative than ever. You look at places like Auxiliary, Pineapple Black, Disgraceland. We have the Art Weekender in September. There’s an exciting energy.
“Maybe Covid has had something to do with it, as difficult as it’s been. We’ve obviously not been able to do so many things we were excited about.
“But during the lockdowns, those young people who might have left have stayed here – there’s connections been made. It’s a labour of love for all of us.”
And after promoting music, art and comedy on Teesside for 20 years as part of Ten Feet Tall – which has brought the likes of Oasis and Coldplay and some of the UK’s biggest comedians to our area – Carmel knows what she’s talking about.
Having a venue of its own, the promotions company doesn’t need to worry about booking the sort of acts that might struggle to fill a larger venue like the Town Hall.
“We’ve always wanted our own place, it frees us up creatively and lets us host whatever we think is good,” she continued.
“And people are coming – they love it. There’s an audience, a community.”
We are words by Mike Brown.
We are pictures by Mike Sreenan.