Last Thursday, the bulk of the tools were stolen from the shipping container. The public events had to be cancelled until I could sort it out. It broke me, I didn’t leave my bedroom for days. But on Monday, Bob took me to the trade centre and to see John at Murfix for a stronger padlock. Before meeting Bob, I stopped by the site- to see if on the off-chance the tools had been brought back. I had a conversation at the edge of the estate– about the theft, how upsetting it was and mentioned I was off shortly to replace the tools. The container was broken into -for the second time- a few hours later. Bob had the replacement tools overnight so there were only the remnants of the first theft left to steal. This time the padlock was also taken away, with the container door left wide open to underscore the damage. Those close to me and the project will know how much hurt it’s caused. Tuesday and Wednesday were also write-offs.
On Wednesday, as I’d just about recovered, the site was attacked again- the third time in less than a week. It was Bonfire Night. I’d heard there was a spectacular one roaring on the estate. The next morning realising courtesy of The Salford Wall. The timber and hoarding panels I’d been given to make into worktables were gone. Also a few unused pallets. In a way, I could accept this. In the abyss, there was a need and it was fulfilled. But it didn’t stop there. There had to be visible violence left.
The timber and empty pallets were stacked by the shipping container. Then there’s the pallets under the bricks. When I was numbering the bricks, I made a colour sketch on the rubble- to work out the colour scheme for the Wall. Just before the building’s demolition, I managed to save the sketch. It took two days of walking back and forth across the demolition site, with bits of rubble on a small wooden plank. It was a mini version of The Wall. John, Bagnall’s site manager, asked what I was doing. I explained it as a drawing and sculpture – and potentially the only thing that would remain from it all. On Bonfire Night, this is what was decimated and flung all over the site. For the wooden pallet it was resting on.
Over the last two months, the building site had become a kind of community and youth centre, in evolution and negotiation. A group of young teen lads asked me what I was doing one day as I was unlocking the gate. I’d only stopped by to pick something up, but they were curious so I invited them in. They stayed for nearly three hours. They came by every day I was on-site from then on. It’s hard to comprehend how much has happened in such a short period of time.
It was a mutual learning process. And in our own ways, we tried to protect one another. They’d show me things like how to make a weapon from my keys to defend myself, or chastise me for keeping my phone in a pocket where it could be easily nicked or fall out. And other things like how to catch, or the delicate art of reading people to say what they want to hear. In return I gave them space without judgment, to not impose, to let them be. And as best I could, with a bit of guidance, to let them define their own boundaries and parameters of authority and respect. I didn’t bullshit or patronise them. Instead I gave them my trust. In return for that, they showed me how brilliant they are. Amidst it all, in the first week, they cleaned something like 300 bricks.
And then that changed.
Over September, The Salford Wall was theirs. The bricks, the stones, the container, the land… and me. It had been their space before I’d ever set foot. I grew to believe I needed to keep it that way- unregulated and uncontrolled, stepping in only if someone or something was being endangered in some way. No playfighting. No homophobic slurs. To not let the little ones on site because I couldn’t make it safe enough for them. Which they respected. I didn’t need to say it twice. Trying to shift my activity so they could keep involved, though not quite knowing how. They’d lost interest in the bricks well before this stage. And also my priorities changed. I started getting nervous about the overall progress- my failure to get a wider public engaged. Struggling severely- the logistics, the communications, what it all meant. And as people started to come on site, I had to leave the lads to their own devices. The place was no longer theirs- our pre-set behaviours were back in place. This is how I failed them.
I’ve been feeling despondent this last week, angry and betrayed. But actually, the betrayal was mine. That terrain we’d been building together I’d betrayed- lost sight of the most important relationship that’s come out of this so far. I let getting the Wall up and all this rhetoric- about government, privatisation, manipulation and injustice – get in the way of something far more real.
I’m not saying what’s happened in the last week has anything to do with them. There’s no evidence to support that it does. My worry is more to do with an overall change in attitude about the site, that it is attracting violation in this way.
The Salford Wall isn’t something that can be forced to happen. It is fragile and susceptible to change. I am no longer working under any illusion of what I am doing, who or what this is for. It is changing again, as the space beside Ye Old Nelson is now overflow for the building work on Vimto Gardens next door. They are running a development site, and so am I. I only need to keep pressing on.
Title: Karline Smith, Moss Side Massive. Gang War by Peter Walsh