There's life in the old girl yet!

I HAVE lived in Rotherham for 45 years. I came over here from Halifax in my twenties when I got married to my Frank. I thought that this town had no more surprises left in her, but last week I discovered that I could not have been more mistaken.

I came into the town centre last Thursday with my niece to do some shopping to see if we could snag some post-Christmas bargains.

I prefer town centre to Meadowhall. For some reason Meadowhall just makes my flesh crawl. Anyway, we’d just finished a round at Tesco when we decided to go up the hill to the Wetherspoons for a drink before we caught the bus home. But we never made it to the pub, because we were distracted and drawn in by something that turned out to be quite magical.

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Near the top of Corporation Street, just after Natwest, there is new building which I always thought was empty. But when our Gloria and I passed by on this particular evening, we noticed there was something going off inside on the ground floor.

There were a lot of people gathered around, and as we looked closer through the windows we saw a huge number of pictures hung on the walls.

We went inside and asked what going on. A nice man called Liam told us that this was the opening night of an exhibition of paintings by an exciting up-and-coming local artist named Chris Slater. We asked how much it was to get in, and Liam told it was free. So we had a look around, and I have to tell you we were blown out of our socks.

These paintings were simply magnificent. They were oil paintings on canvas and I kept thinking to myself that I’d seen them somewhere before. Then Gloria pointed out to me that was probably because most of these paintings were of scenes around Rotherham itself.

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Well, if my socks weren’t already blown off from before, they would have been blown off again and stayed off.

These amazing paintings, the way they captured the shapes and shadows and lights of the town, they made me see Rotherham in an entirely new way. We take her for granted and we put her down a lot (I’ll hold my hand up and confess I’ve been guilty of this crime myself in the past); but you know what? Rotherham is a lovely old girl of a town. She still has beauty and wonders to show us if only we could learn to start treating her right.

We stayed for a drink. We met the mayor who came down to open the exhibition officially. We met some other lovely people, other artists and singers and the like, and then we got to meet Chris Slater himself. Lovely, lovely man… reminded me a bit of my Frank. Except the only thing my Frank has ever painted is the bedroom ceiling.

I’ve been down to that London and I’ve been round their galleries. My personal experience is that down there people tend to be a bit cold and aloof – especially sometimes when they find you’re from the North. However, now I know I don’t need to go down South to see some art, because it’s going on right here on my doorstep.

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Not only is it amazing art, but it’s also art with a generous helping of Northern warmth and hospitality. I don’t know if Chris’s exhibition is still up, but I’ve been told there’s always something new and surprising to see at the Old Market Gallery. I plan to make it a regular stop on my rounds whenever I come into the Town Centre from now on.

So get yourself down there! I feel quite inspired now. I saw some art supplies on sale down in Wilco. I wonder of I dare. My niece Gloria says “Why not?” Why not indeed.

Margaret Steen, Hall Road, Moorgate, Rotherham