Today sees the launch of an exhibition comparing the country’s two South Banks.

Steve Pratt talk to one of the people behind the project.

THE two places share a name but seemingly little else. One is described as “an eclectic area that is the cultural heart of the city and home to iconic attractions, theatres, arts and design-led venues”. The other used to be surrounded with mountains of slag from the steelworks, earning it the name Slaggy Island.

These are very different South Bank shows.

On is the centre of London, within sight of the Houses of Parliament, the other is an urban area with a history of steelmaking and shipbuilding on the banks of the River Tees.

But film-makers Paul Kelly and Andrew Hinton aren’t working on a project to make yet another documentary highlighting the North- South divide.

“The comparison between the two will tell an interesting story about the ebb and flow of politics in the 20th and 21st centuries,” suggests Hinton.

What they’ve already found from their first visit to the area to take photographs and talk to locals is that “people are so friendly”.

“They were very passionate about the area,”

he says. “It was quite obvious that people were incredibly proud of South Bank. This was a shock coming from London where no one talks to each other and eyes each other warily.”

The film-makers from Pilgrims Films have joined forces with Portsmouth-based Caravan Gallery – a mobile exhibition venue and visual arts project that tours exhibitions in a small yellow caravan – to make this tale of two cities, The Other South Bank.

Hinton and Kelly, together with Caravanners Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale, have returned to Teesside this weekend to complete the project. The Caravan Gallery will be parked at Golden Boy Green community centre for residents to view photographs and talk about their experiences in South Bank.

The idea arose from Hinton and Kelly’s yearlong residency at the London South Bank, the riverside stretch in the centre of London that’s home to, among other things, the Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre and the London Eye.

“We did a lot of research about the South Bank and, during the course of that, discovered there was another South Bank in Middlesbrough,”

explains Hinton. “We very much wanted to go up and look around to see if we could draw some parallels, or explore the two very different fortunes of the areas over 50 years.

“The other South Bank could have been anywhere, but I don’t think there’s anywhere as big as the one in Middlesbrough.”

Their initial information about South Bank in Middlesbrough came via the internet, notably a local history website run by Dick Fawcett.

They also recruited the Caravan Gallery, which has been building up a photographic archive of life in Britain for five years. “They came to one of our films, we hit it off and began looking for a way to collaborate,” says Hinton.

On a visit to the North-East last year, they wandered around, took pictures and spoke to locals. South Bank United social club was one of the places they met people to hear their stories.

The organisation dedicated to protecting the future of the area, South Bank Tomorrow, proved helpful too, organising meetings with the council and the local history society.

“We met people out walking their dogs and things came out of that. They’d say ‘you should talk to so-and-so at number 78’,” he recalls.

“Various other people joined in and started chatting. Obviously it’s a subject they know quite a lot about.”

The project makers haven’t really drawn any conclusions about the differences and similarities between the two South Banks as yet. Hinton’s hoping to have a clearer idea following this weekend’s visit, after interviewing people in their homes and building up a complete picture of the area.

ON London’s South Bank, he tells of a housing co-operative that has built an “amazing house complex” in the heart of London. That’s unexpected, just as seeing streets demolished and removed in its Middlesbrough namesake.

“You see areas of cleared land which is a surprise coming from London where space is at such a premium. It’s quite shocking to see whole streets knocked down, although we get the impression there’s going to be a big regeneration of the area. But these things can go wrong,” he says.

Although none of the film-makers and photographers connected with the project are from the North-East, they didn’t grow up in London either. “We’re outside both places which I think gives us a good, slightly more objective outlook on things.”

The project has been funded by Northern Film and Media, along with the South Bank Centre, London. “Not a huge amount of money, but enough to put some petrol in the tank,” as Hinton puts it.

The results of the project will be a photographic exhibition and a 10-15 minute film comparing the two places, The Other South Bank, that will be premiered later this year.

The images of both South Banks will travel outside the country as part of the Caravan Gallery archive. There are plans for a road trip to the US next year with an idea to explore more twin towns, such as Birmingham and Washington.

■ The Caravan Gallery will be at Golden Boy Green Community Centre in Normanby Road, South Bank, Middlesbrough, today from 10am, with an exhibition of photographs and chance to talk about stories from the area.

■ You can also contact The Other South Bank project at