Doncaster has undergone significant changes in my lifetime, away from its heavy industry heyday. It used to be a confident, thriving town, but with the local collapse of industry and demoralisation of communities, it has struggled to find an identity. Now, I have high hopes Doncaster has stopped trying to be a cheap mini-me version of larger places, with many locally-led new initiatives designed to restore the town’s self-confidence and individuality.
Further back, Doncaster’s roots in agriculture led to our long-established market. I have vivid childhood memories of a thriving market, bustling with shoppers buying anything from a few inches of ribbon to a piece of cod. Like the town as a whole, the market has had its share of a period spent in the doldrums, but it’s still a great place to buy just one orange, if that’s all a recipe needs. I look forward to seeing the market drawing foodies from further afield, keen to appreciate the town’s many excellent local producers. I often frequent the Queen of Olives stall, home of many luscious delicacies, and Tim and Jane’s grocery, which stocks an astonishing range of goods at fantastically low prices.
Ahead of the rest
Looking outwards, on recent visits to other towns and cathedral cities, it was noticeable that they are beleaguered by exactly the same social problems as Doncaster has experienced. I’m pleased to say that now a walk through our town centre now is often a more pleasant experience than in some of the tourist destinations.
I have a great affection for the older architecture in Doncaster, and I’m proud to live in a town that can boast one of only three mansion houses in the country. My other favourites are the former Doncaster Grammar School library, Conisbrough Castle, and the Girls’ High School. These made an early impression on me as landmarks on my journey to the coast from my first childhood home in Swinton. I’d usually managed to be travel sick before reaching Conisbrough. In my teens, it felt slightly surreal as a new pupil to walk through the portals of the two schools that I’d admired at a distance for so long. I like the continuity of being one of three generations of my family who have attended the grammar school, now Hall Cross Academy.
Away from the town centre, I’ve been thrilled to see the drifts of wild flowers springing up around the town every year. The vibrant colours and informal planting have made my heart sing with every glimpse. It’s wonderful to see a break in the green deserts, and the pollinating insects must be benefiting, too. Well done, Doncaster Council.
Lakeside and Dome
Thirty years ago, I was sceptical about the transformation of the old airport into the Lakeside and Dome areas. I feared that they would become white elephants, but I’ve been forced to eat my words. Living close to both places, I’m lucky that I don’t have to travel far for feel-good in my life, whether for exercise, entertainment, or to enjoy the birds on the lake.
As a child, entertainment in Doncaster mostly meant the cinema or the Arts Centre, later the Civic Theatre. My favourite was the Odeon Arcade, off Hallgate. I loved queuing to enter via a mini shopping mall; if I was extra lucky, I would be bought a book of cut-out- and-stick Bible stories from the arcade’s Pilgrim Bookshop after the film. The Arts Centre was first known to me as a place to go to the pantomime. When I was ten, I made the first of several appearances on the stage, in Avis Tonge’s ballet school production of The Wizard of Oz. It stands testimony to my ballet skill that my roles were a flying monkey and a fighting tree. Hopefully, I acquitted myself better when I was in the
Gang Show with Alder Grove’s scouts and guides, and much later as a Bollywood dancer. For many years, there were slim pickings culturally for Doncaster, despite its rich history. We had a few visits from the RSC to The Dome, and more unusually, to Adwick Leisure Centre, and there were one night only shows from touring acts. I’m thrilled to see how Cast has made a difference to that, so much so that I am now a member. We have the opportunity to see an imaginative and varied programme of high-quality acts and productions in a theatre with excellent acoustics and views of the stage. Since the opening of Cast, I’ve hardly ever been to theatres in other towns. As plans for cultural events grow, there should be more on offer to help Doncaster’s economy and confidence strengthen.
I’ve learned to embrace the benefits of change, and I look forward to watching Doncaster build its unique identity.