“There’s loads more good people in Hemlington than bad, people who live here know that,” said Gemma Hall, standing outside the Silver Spoon café.
The mum-of-two has taken a five minute break from helping to serve up a Christmas dinner to dozens of residents on the estate, at a party she and friend Vicki Jolly organised.
The pair started the Hemlington Community Group in October, after a terrible 18 months of Covid lockdowns and isolation.
“We both suffered from depression and anxiety,” continued Gemma, 37.
“We’ve stuck together through lockdowns and now we want to give back to others going through what we’ve been through.”
It’s been a tough time for everyone during the pandemic.
But in Hemlington – an area of Middlesbrough with undoubted challenges – it’s felt tougher at times.
A recent rise in crime and anti-social behaviour has attracted attention – and negative portrayals of the estate have dominated the headlines.
“There are problems, yeah,” says Gemma. “But sometimes, you only hear about the bad things.
“We just keep ourselves to ourselves. We’ve put this group on so that people can come together and know they don’t have to feel scared.
“We just stick together, me and Vicki. We’ve done it to show the community they don’t have to be frightened.”
The group, made up of men and women of all ages, has met for coffee mornings every fortnight, with the help of Linx Youth Project and council grant funding.
Members said they’d love to get together for Christmas dinner, so Gemma and Vicki organised a party, collecting raffle prizes from people in Hemlington, arranging bingo and buying a present for everyone.
Mum-of-three Vicki said the vast majority of people in Hemlington “are genuinely lovely”.
The 37-year-old said: “We just wanted to bring people together from different backgrounds. Maybe people who’ve struggled with their mental health.
“We wanted people in Hemlington to get back to feeling as one, like a community.”
As we go inside to serve up Christmas pudding or brownies, I asked one man what the party meant to him.
“It just shows you that people care, that Hemlington is like anywhere else.”
Another man said: “We’re very grateful, it’s been wonderful. My house was becoming a bit of a prison during Covid, it was hard to get out without help.
“It’s really lovely to come out and speak to people and enjoy a Christmas dinner.”
Sue Field, who runs Silver Spoon, cooked the Christmas dinner for everyone who attended and has enjoyed being part of the group.
“I think Hemlington is a really good community,” she said. “My business is here and our customers always support us.”
Hemlington councillor Jeanette Walker was also invited to the event, and she said it showed the estate in its best light.
“There are good people here, in Hemlington. Before Covid we used to have a lot of community events, but it’s been so difficult since that things like today are vital and so welcome.
“Gemma and Vicki have been instrumental, it was something that people needed. There’s so many good people here and this shows it.”
We are words and pictures: Mike Brown