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If you believe Gloucester is the 'cesspit of sub-humanity', the issue is with you, not the city...

By The Citizen  |  Posted: January 21, 2014

  • City pride: Gloucester Rugby

Comments (14) Rich Leigh Smith is a 26-year-old Gloucester resident, PR and marketing specialist and start-up business business co-founder. He tweets @RichLeighPR. Here he tells us why he thinks we have plenty to be proud of in our city

"GLOUCESTER is undoubtedly one of the chavviest places I've ever had to live."

"Gloucester is a s*** hole and if I had my way I be out of hear on the first train avalable but I cnt." (sic)

"Gloucester – Cesspit of Subhumanity."

These are three statements I found when I decided to spend what must have amounted to less than a minute Googling, typing in variations of 'living in Gloucester'.

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Whilst it's true I would doubtless find the same for each and every city in the world had I the time (or inclination) to look, I searched for a reason, you see.

I was born in Gloucester.

I have lived in and around the city my entire life. I live in a particularly looked-down-upon area – in a house in Barton Street (which was once burgled in broad daylight) – and am happily bringing my two children up with my wife here.

Prior to this, we lived in High Street, Tredworth, where as I noted in this piece I wrote about the 2011 riots , the regular drugs raids and nightly unrest made for an interesting year and a bit.

With experience of the worst of the city, it might seem odd then that I'd like to defend it.

More accurately, I'd like to defend the people of Gloucester and the great things they do.

I'd like to shine a light on the very people naysayers ignore, because recognising them, their achievements and their contributions to the city wouldn't tally with their widely and ignorantly-held beliefs that 'Gloucester is s***'.

You've heard them, people like the authors of the three statements above – nothing is ever good enough. The regeneration of the Quays? Rubbish.

Gloucester won, did they? About time.

Some nutter's running across Canada? Well, he should get a proper job, shouldn't he.

I ask – why waste the time we have here only happy when our pessimism is validated? Yes, shops in the city centre, as across the country, are closing, but a city isn't the sum of its shuttered doorways, but the people and communities it comprises.

I recently met somebody that emigrated from Gloucester to Canada a number of years ago.

She was here on an annual trip to visit family and I asked her about the key differences between Gloucester and Ottawa.

She answered quickly – pride. Pride in their schools, in their hospitals, in their community.

As she noted, pride in Britain, let alone Gloucester, is lacking, save for the short-lived buzz during and after the Olympics.

If a relatively small group of individuals and their achievements can unite a nation, the people of Gloucester, old and young, would do well to take a step back and look at those on their doorstep.

We have people like aforementioned nutter and world-record holder Jamie McDonald, who, from humble beginnings but a caring family, decided to spend the money he had saved up for a mortgage to fly himself to Canada and run every inch of its 5,000 mile coast to coast span, in a bid to raise money for sick children.

We have his cousin, Kev Brady, who is at this minute paddling down the Mississippi river with a similar aim and thirst for adventure. Travel journalist and adventurer Jamie Maddison, whose One Steppe Ahead journey across Central Asia last year was supported by none other than Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

We have Julie Pullen, who supports adults with physical or learning disabilities with her social enterprise Sharp.

We have the Gloucestershire Bike Project in Barton Street. We have GFM radio station. We have Imran Atcha and others of The Friendship Cafe, the charity that runs St James City Farm and Gymnation, all of the above key to the communities they serve.

And we don't just have to look at those endangering their lives in foreign lands or running charitable endeavours to find people worth supporting and finding a united pride in, either.

Our city is bursting with talent and projects we should celebrate.

Let's start with art. Free Art Friday is an initiative where original pieces of art are left around Gloucester, every week, along with a tag that says 'free art' – I still haven't managed to get to one in time.

We have Dellis , an incredibly talented photographer whose powerful and perfectly captured images of the 2011 disturbances in Gloucester were widely used by the media.

We have Michael Robins, from Linden. Michael is the most technically gifted photorealistic artist I've ever seen. Many of his YouTube videos, in which he speeds up the process of him drawing, have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

He has won celebrity admirers such as Bryan Cranston (Walter White in Breaking Bad). Mike's sister, Amy, is an equally talented artist and has had her work featured in the media .

When it comes to music, former Great British beach volleyball players Jody Gooding and his wife Denise, with Cinderford RFC's Jack Adams, organised Sportbeat , a festival that aimed to combine sport and music into one family-friendly event, playing host to well-known acts.

It returns this summer. Mary-Jess Leaverland made front page news for being the British student that won what the UK press dubbed 'The Chinese X Factor' in 2010; voted the winner by an audience of 70 million.

Abbeydale's Nathan Sykes is one-fifth of chart-topping pop group The Wanted.

We have Stilla Audio, a drum and bass collective featuring Gloucester-based acts such as Soul Method (AKA Joe Darke), who've received support and airplay on the likes of Radio 1.

Of course, there's also an abundance of sporting talent in Gloucester. Rower Beth Rodford has represented Great Britain at the last two Olympic Games.

Shaun Knight, Charlie Sharples and Marcel Garvey are just three of many possible names that roll off the tongue as top-level athletes from a city that (rightly) reveres rugby.

Fortunately, the back pages of the Citizen are filled with the names of current and future sporting stars and for the hopeful young sports person, as I was in my teens, there's no motivation like seeing local people competing at a high level.

Aside from individual talent, in recent years, there's a plethora of community-orientated businesses and projects sprouting up that are worth celebrating.

My brother, Rob Smith, is currently in the lengthy process of re-opening Crackers, a building that's been closed for years, as The Institution , a venue for live alternative music.

Craig Rutherford opened the doors last year to Crossfit GC , a fitness centre that comes across as a community centre as much as it does a place of exercise.

James Churchill's independent Gym on Bristol Road has just celebrated its third year.

Rikki Hill has just launched event and talent management company Big Red Music and Events, giving local bands a chance to be represented by somebody with experience in the space.

Musician Dan Snowden has opened a studio at Morelands Trading Estate offering practice space for bands and tuition rooms for tutors and pupils, as featured by the Citizen here.

I understand that this is a rose-tinted look at projects and people I know or am friends with (which may explain the gender imbalance – especially as I went to all-boys school, Crypt), so there's an obvious bias here, but each is somebody or something from the city that I believe, when considered, should make us feel very proud.

If we refocus our gaze from the perceived negatives, the issues that blight every city – the high street decline, homelessness, crime and alcohol and drug dependency.

Instead, it will celebrate the efforts and achievements of those in our midst from all walks of life, or perhaps even attempt to impact the above negative issues, I think Gloucester can build an identity, both here and nationally, that is much, much more than what happened at 25 Cromwell Street, or what happens when a group of gleefully unhinged people throw themselves down a hill in the name of cheese.

Aside from all of the above, the two incidences that proved to me how great Gloucester can be were also, unfortunately, the saddest.

The premature deaths of local rugby players Dominic Cullen and Ty Townsley both rocked and brought people together like nothing I've experienced.

Having played with and against Dom, and having been fortunate enough to coach Ty, news of their deaths was numbing and a poignant reminder of how life can be cut short.

The community rallied around the friends and families of the pair, providing support when nothing else could be offered.

More than anything, the way their deaths were mourned and their lives were celebrated exemplifies the spirit of Gloucester to me.

On a similar note, my youngest brother Jordan Smith, born at 24 weeks – making him 'extremely premature' – was cared for by the fantastic intensive care team at Gloucestershire Royal.

In 1997, the rate of survival was even lower than the 40 per cent survival rate today.

That makes the support my family received then from the hospital and more recently from friends and well-wishers after a nearly-fatal series of strokes as the result of rugby injury all the more appreciated.

He recently achieved a 'distinction' in his black belt 2nd Dan karate grading just months after a two week hospital stay.

Again, bias aside, with that sort of determination; he and other young citizens have a lot to offer Gloucester.

I'm proud of our city and I want my children to be proud and inspired, too.

Call me an idealist, but I think everybody can make a difference and it starts with the way we look at the people around us. Whether you're seven and believe Jamie McDonald is a real super hero or 70 and believe you have something to offer your community, it's hard not to be inspired by the people I've named in this post and the many others I haven't.

If you still believe Gloucester really is the 'cesspit of sub-humanity', I don't think the issue lies with Gloucester. It lies with you.

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  • Tree1974  |  January 22 2014, 6:13AM

    Sorry about the spelling Saffy, I am dyslexic so I am glad that it was good enough that you managed to recognise what I ment! I wasn't arguing about where's better, just pointing out that Cheltenham also has areas that frequently Cheltonians wish to forget!

  • KimCPapineau  |  January 21 2014, 11:43PM

    upto I looked at the receipt which said *4767 , I accept that...my... mom in-law could realey bringing home money part-time on their apple labtop. . there friends cousin haz done this 4 only 6 months and just repaid the dept on their cottage and got a great Chevrolet Corvette . see this site.................... WWW.Fizzjob.ℭom

  • Saffy  |  January 21 2014, 11:22PM

    Tree its whaddon...I live there.there is rubbish and good all places...some granted are worse than others but you could argue all day about where is better.I love my home and my neighbours because they are good people the area to me is somewhat irrelevant x

  • GlosAnarchy  |  January 21 2014, 8:45PM

    Coconuts_09 have to agree, having lived and worked all over the country and in others the worst thing about Gloucester is the lack of pride in the city from certain elements of the community and their lack of anything constructive to do or say. There are also the "Everything was better in my day", "there wasn't the crime blah blah blah" the fact is there was, Mary Bell ring any bells how about John Bodkin Adams? One thing that needs to be taught is respect!

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  • GlosAnarchy  |  January 21 2014, 8:45PM

    Coconuts_09 have to agree, having lived and worked all over the country and in others the worst thing about Gloucester is the lack of pride in the city from certain elements of the community and their lack of anything constructive to do or say. There are also the "Everything was better in my day", "there wasn't the crime blah blah blah" the fact is there was, Mary Bell ring any bells how about John Bodkin Adams? One thing that needs to be taught is respect!

    |   -29
  • Coconuts_09  |  January 21 2014, 8:00PM

    I've lived in Gloucester all my life and don't regret that fact but you've taken an extreme comment far too seriously. I also feel that higlighting the issues blighting Gloucester (and I agree with your point that a lot of those issues face man other towns and cities) can demonstrate a confidence in the city, as by addressing those issues, we make Gloucester a better place to live, work and visit. Criticising those who dare to speak up can be just as damaging to Gloucester's success as a few silly and negative social media comments.

  • Tree1974  |  January 21 2014, 6:42PM

    Kay, you are right, there was a problem. It is much better now thank you! Just because you highlight a problem and try to do something about it doesn't make you negative but shows that you take pride and care. The issue is people who go on and on spouting mindless rubbish about the town in which they live but won't get off their backsides and do something about it. It is naive to think that Gloucester has any more of a problem than somewhere like Cheltenham , Churchdown or any other town. It's just that those social issues may be hidden or different. If people think that Gloucester really is so totally bad (and it isn't just about poo and antisocial behaviour) perhaps they should consider moving to Cheltenham. After all, there are homes for all budgets what with Spring Bank, Hester's Way, Princess Elizabeth Way, Whadden Road, etc.... (Or is it easier to just forget those areas belong to Cheltenham?)

  • Kay_Powell  |  January 21 2014, 4:01PM

    Tree, I remember you complaining about anti-social behaviour and criminality in Linden a few years ago. Is it better now? I hope so. To be honest, I have lived in Gloucester for most of the last 31 years, and I do find it very chavvy compared to the other two places that I have known well - Cheltenham and Ashford. Sorry, but I speak as I find. People who live in such places as Churchdown, and who don't see much of life in urban areas or the suburban estates of Gloucester, may not appreciate the fact that there are social problems. I have noticed in particular of late that developments that I find unacceptable - such as the riding arena in St. James' Park in Tredworth - are being justified as a way to reduce the anti-social behaviour in the area; and yet if I dare to suggest that there is anything wrong with the area, I am condemned as 'negative'. There have been a huge number of dispersal orders in Gloucester over the last few years; these are only ever needed in bad areas, so go figure. I regularly pick up litter and dog muck. It is telling that people - mainly those under the age of twenty - often ask me why I am picking up rubbish, and cannot understand why anyone would do such a thing without being paid.

    |   -27
  • Tree1974  |  January 21 2014, 12:52PM

    I moved to Gloucestershire about 20 years ago and to Gloucester 11 years ago. I moved from a very 'nice' market town in Buckinghamshire and to be honest, it was the best move I could have made. I live in Linden, my house is beautiful (just what I always wanted) and my neighbours and the local community are awesome. It is very evident though that there are an awful lot of Doom Goblins in Gloucester and it would seem that a lot of them are young people who have not experienced living or working in other places. Real life is very different to just passing though on a work placement or holiday so, if you think Gloucester is a **** place, perhaps you should move elsewhere for a while to see if the grass really is greener?

  • GlosAnarchy  |  January 21 2014, 11:38AM

    Well said, there are to many complainers and not enough doers, you see local groups getting together to clean up their local area whether that be cleaning up litter, painting over tagging (notice I didn't say graffiti as a lot of it is really good), clearing back undergrowth etc. If any of the moaners take part in this kind of activity I would be most surprised!

    |   -19