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Happy Black Country Day! Find out why our home is bostin’

By Megan Archer | Black Country Festival | Published:

Today the region is celebrating one of the most important days of the year - Black Country Day!

Happy Black Country Day! Enjoying the Black Country Festival celebrations in 2018 was Lily Rolinson

It is now an established part of the Black Country calendar.

Hard to believe, then, that Black Country Day has only been held since 2012.

Both it and our region’s distinctive flag are now firmly embedded in the psyche of everyone who is proud to call our region home.

Happy #BlackCountryDay on Twitter:

We have been speaking to Black Country folks to find out what the region means to them, starting with the man behind the Black Country Festival....

Steve Edwards

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It has been an exciting ride for Steve Edwards, the region’s champion and one of the key people behind the entire Black Country Festival.

“It’s amazing to see how far Black Country Day has gone, and I’m so excited to see where it goes in the future.” he said.

Black Country Festival is in its sixth year – and celebrations are in full swing across the region.

Black Country Festival founder Steve Edwards outside the Black Country Hub in Merry Hill

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Today is Black Country Day – and Steve has spoken of his pure love for all things bostin’.

“We started in 2012 and then the first official one was in 2013. To see it grow has been amazing. It’s going from strength to strength,” he said.

The idea for Black Country Festival just started out small, with only a few people gathering at the local boozer to celebrate.

But now thousands turn out for a wide variety of events all throughout July. And the sixth year is the biggest and best it’s ever been.

More coverage:

Steve said: “Back then we had about 100 people involved and then we just thought people would talk about it but not really do much.

“We thought it would be people drinking local ales and going to Black Country pubs. At that point it was never supposed to be a festival.

“It’s so amazing to see how far Black Country Day has gone, and I’m so excited to see where it goes in the future.”

While 35-year-old Steve used to be the Black Country Festival committee chairman, this year he has no official role.

Bostin! Some of the good for sale at The Black Country Hub

But he’ll still be cheering on the festivities, and devoting his time to his community and tourism shop at intu Merry Hill, The Black Country Hub.

He added: “A lot of tourists come in the shop, from America or Australia – they tell me their parents or grandparents used to live here. And they have seen the Black Country flag flying all around the world.

“And it’s just incredible – it was spotted at Glastonbury again this year. A flag that was designed by a 12-year-old schoolgirl – Gracie Sheppard – and it’s now being flown all around the world. It’s become our brand, which we needed.

“Everything that is Black Country at the minute is really starting to take off again. It feels like there’s a really good interest. The festival brings it to the forefront of people’s minds.

“We were always looked down upon. We were mocked and ridiculed over the years. But this shows that we’re proud to be from the Black Country.”

From live comedy nights, fun runs and community carnivals – more events were planned than ever before during the festival which kicked off officially at Halesowen Carnival at the end of June. Mayor of Dudley David Stanley officially launched the start of a month-long festival.

And today will see the biggest event of them all – the headline act – with Black Country Musicom at Himley Hall in Dudley.

Steve said he is most proud of the fact that the Black Country still boasts their famous, thick accent. He even wrote the Black Country Dictionary to help tourists not familiar with the twang.

He added: “I love the dialect. That’s one of the things I want to preserve, which is why I wrote the dictionary. My 85-year-old nan is as Black Country as they come. And my missus could not understand a word she said when she met her and she’s only from Wordsley.

“It’s a real generational thing but I don’t want us to lose it. My favourite phrase, and I think the most popular, is ‘ow am ya’.

“We should all be so proud to be from the Black Country.”

John Homer

“Why do I love the Black Country? It’s quite difficult to put into words actually. It’s in your heart if you’re born and bred here. It’s in your blood.”

Sixty-four-year-old John Homer was born in Quarry Bank, the place he calls his “spiritual home”.

He now lives in Ruiton, Upper Gornal, and has worked at Black Country Living Museum for the last 13 years, after leaving his full time career at Acas.

John Homer

He’s also been a Baggies fan for the past 50 years, is the The Official Supporters’ Club chairman, and was named fans’ champion in 2017.

And he adores the Black Country.

“It’s an exceptional, unique place, the Black Country,” he said. “And it’s our heritage. It’s right and proper that all our past generations are fully recognised.”

John also works with people who suffer from dementia, and also runs The Dementia Football Memories Club at the Hawthorns, one of the first of its kind in the country.

He said he’d be definitely celebrating Black Country Day, adding: “The Black Country is full of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

"People are loyal, trustworthy, and united. This is a great way to celebrate our people and culture.”

Doreen Tipton

Doreen Tipton is well known as self-unemployed queen of the Black Country – and chief of always providing “all the loffs”.

Yet Black Country Day is one thing she takes very seriously.

The comedienne, real name Gill Jordan, said: “Black Country Day is very important – I think people are at their most fulfilled when they have the right balance between being two opposing forces – being part of a shared culture, and having a unique identity.

“We’re all different, but we also need to belong – to have roots, to hang onto our traditions, and to take pride in our immediate surroundings.”

Doreen Tipton

With libraries all across the regions calling for the best Black Country jokes to be sent in, to celebrate the festival, Doreen revealed that she believes humour is “one of the most important weapons we have”.

She added: “Certain politicians would do well to take note. We live in strange political times. And I truly believe that humour is one of the most important weapons we have to fight back.

“For me, humour as a commodity is right up there with love. But unlike love, going around spreading humour doesn’t make you sound like some sort of weird latter-day hippy who’s sniffed too many Beecham’s Powders.

“Everybody’s sense of humour, of course, is as unique as a fingerprint. No purveyor of comedy can ever please everyone, and quite a few seem to please no-one, but they battle on regardless.

“So yes, humour can divide folk. But it can also connect them, in a way that no other activity can. It can find a way through social class, sporting rivalries, political and racial divides – it can even, on certain touching occasions, find a way through grief and tragedy.”

Doreen said she loved the region’s history, adding: “It is an area with a long manufacturing heritage, forged in the industrial revolution. That legacy is still in evidence today.”

Alexis Simms

Sports coach Alexis Simms, 39, from Tividale, is part of the Tennis Foundation.

Alexis is new to the region, but says he has come to love the unique sense of humour and personality of those living here.

He has lived in the Black Country for more than six years now, having previously grown up and lived in Edgbaston in Birmingham.

And says he can see real benefits with moving to the Black Country.

Alexis Simms

He said: “The appeal to me has been the really relaxed atmosphere and the people being really friendly.

“You can also find great natural spots of beauty in this area and the access to get here via the motorway and the rail network is perfect.

“Living here fits in perfectly with my work and personal life.”

The uniqueness of the area and the culture have all been plus points for Alexis since he moved to his home in Tividale.

And he said he is fully behind the idea of celebrating the region with a series of events culminating in Black Country Day.

He said: “The unique accent, vibrant personalities and the great sense of humour all combine well and everything about the area is unique and one of a kind.”

Alexis lives on a hill where, from the top, the view spreads over his former home city of Birmingham along with the urban Black Country – a view he says is worth exploring further.

Alexis says he is fascinated by the industrial history of the towns in and around where he lives.

But he says not enough is made of the great beauty of some of the green areas that lie on the doorstep of a region that is known for being built up with industry and housing.

He said: “The Black Country has a lot to offer and a lot of hidden charms.

“There are areas of natural beauty like Clent Hills and nature reserves that are a bit off the beaten track, so you’ll never be lost for something to do”.

Alexandra Darby

Singer Alexandra Darby is a former Miss Black Country – and has spent the last year championing the great and good of the region.

Born and bred in the local area, and living in Rowley Regis, the 23-year-old is in the running to be Miss England.

And she is busy getting ready to compete in the finals at the end of this month.

She also recently visited Greece to teach music to children and adults at a refugee camp.

Alexandra Darby

But there is no place like home.

Alexandra says that no matter where she is in the world, or what she is doing, she will “never forget her Black Country roots”.

Alexandra, who is well known for performing as a singer in pubs and clubs around the region, says she feels very closely attached to this area and is determined to use her profile to promote it to people who may otherwise overlook its attractions.

She says the Black Country Festival is a great addition to the annual calendar and that it and the distinctive flag has created a new interest in the region. She says she expects it to develop further in years to come.

She said: “I adore the Black Country – it’s my home.

“There are so many wonderful people here, and wonderful stories.

“I sometimes feel the Black Country can be forgotten a little bit, which is why Black Country Day – and the Black Country Festival – are so important.”

She added: “It’s amazing to see how the festival has grown, with thousands celebrating it every year now.

“I love seeing the community come together as one.

“And it’s showing people around the country – and even the world – what we are all about.

“It shows people that we are here and we’re proud to be from the Black Country.

“I hope everyone enjoys an amazing Black Country Day.”

David Stanley

This year, 2019, is Councillor Stanley’s first Black Country Day as mayor - despite having held the title twice in his life.

He officially opened the Black Country Festival at Halesowen Carnival at the end of June, and has been popping up at other celebratory events all over the region.

He said: “As mayor, I know all about the Black Country. I was born and bred here, in Ruiton, nothing is new to me.

David Stanley

“This event has been ongoing for six years now and has been going from strength to strength each year.

“We’ve had people from all over showing up to celebrate. And I’m very proud as Dudley is the capital of the Black Country, I do believe that to be true.”

The mayor will be at Black Country Musicom at Himley Hall and Park, which runs from 12 to 7pm. The event, organised by Dudley Council, combines music with comedy and promises to be a treat for the whole family.

Councillor Stanley explained why all residents across the Black Country should get involved in celebrating Black Country Day.

He said: “It’s part of our heritage isn’t it? There’s things in life that just slip by and life goes so fast, we need to remember them.

“It’s blending the old with the new, this festival, and gives people a chance to put things down and talk to each other.

“It gives them a chance to reminisce and it’s an ideal way of bringing our communities together. It’s fantastic.”

Ranjit Singh

Ranjit Singh, 44, from Wolverhampton, loves the melting pot that is the Black Country.

He says the region where he was born and brought up has a great sense of community that helps bring people together, whatever their background.

Ranjit is head coach of Wolverhampton Wrestling Club.

Ranjit Singh

He says he identifies very strongly with the sense of community the Black Country is known for, particularly within the sporting world where he works.

He says great friendships have been forged through his wrestling, a trend that can be seen in other sports where clubs regularly get together for competitions.

He said: “I think there are a lot of community sports projects taking place in the Black Country, which only helps bring the communities together.”

The continued improvement and regeneration of the region also, says Ranjit, helps it to improve and the public perception to change as well.

He said: “It’s a great place to live and the regeneration in places like Dudley and Wolverhampton, with the town centres improving all the time, helps bring the community together”

Togetherness is the word Ranjit uses when he talks about the Black Country and what he would say if somebody asked him about the area.

He said: “It’s a community-based place to live.

“It is all very diverse, with people from all different backgrounds living here happily together.

“It’s a unique blend of cultures and has been the backbone of the Black Country, going back over the years.”

Megan Archer

By Megan Archer
Chief Reporter - @MeganA_Star

Chief Reporter with the Express & Star. Give me a call on 01902 319363 or email megan.archer@expressandstar.co.uk.

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