Surviving the Pandemic

The Creative Factory experience through COVID-19

By Deb Slade

Walsall Creative Factory CIC, a collective of freelance community art workers that has grown since the Community Interest Company started in 2014 to now have a workshop based in The Butts near Walsall Town Centre.


Originally the collective would fundraise, develop and deliver arts and heritage project work led by different members with the core directors steering what projects were developed so projects were not competing and the membership was developed to have differing delivery skills as preferred deliverers on projects. This is a fine balance; everyone works freelance and no one expects to earn their entire living out of the organisation and different people can lead projects. The directors ensure the proposals will add value and that work carried out is of a high quality to maintain the reputation of the company.  A fluctuating membership of associate artists is based on interest and needs at the time with partnerships with other organisations developed for specific projects. The development of projects is entrepreneurial by nature and bid writing is rarely a paid role, the bid writer would need to build a paid management role as part of the budget to ensure the project was successful and do all the reports and evaluations needed.

In 2019 the company experimented by opening a pop-up venue to serve the needs of 2 projects that needed to hire space to meet weekly over 6 months. Launching a Creative Factory workspace, rather than just hiring a space opened up the opportunity to use it as a workshop for our artists, but also open up all kinds of community opportunities.

Three key members of Creative Factory, Deb Slade, Maxine Haywood and Ruth Radcliffe took on the role of developing the venue, a combination of paid sessions through the project work and volunteering for other sessions and the hard graft of setting up and maintaining the venue. 

A timetable was drawn up starting with the 2 funded projects: Chat and craft – pre ESOL sessions using craft with parents and children learning English as a second language, and a cohesion programme with Asian elders, vulnerable people and young people on the ASD spectrum. The sessions were mostly very successful and to date have been maintained in one form or another through finding different grants, a small Public health grant also supported us to work with those isolated in the community to support their well being and connectivity. 

Fee-paying arts classes and one-off workshops were scheduled to varying success, which helped to bring some income to the core team and towards the core costs of the venue.

Membership was originally largely drawn from participants from a large community embroidery project, Walsall Silver Thread Tapestries also with a few like-minded arts practitioners was developed. For a small fee £25 for 6 months a member can attend anytime have a free nice hot drink, (there’s usually cake too!) and come and craft their own project. The deal was that while there they would socialise with our project clients. They could also put handmade crafts on the walls and shelves for sale or just to show. 

The timetable 10 – 4pm Mon to Fri filled up between the project sessions with general drop-in times at £2 per person and sometimes the clientele blurred and new groupings of people came e.g. from the local deaf home, more recently a foster caring family session. Where we can we accommodate, we would have a go, some things worked some faded away. Drop-in sessions are run by ourselves volunteering, with some of our members becoming core volunteers too, running peer-led sessions.

Lastly, quite naturally we developed community events which became the bedrock of our cohesion work particularly in integrating the local Miripuri community who make up more than half of the population at the local primary school, also the vulnerable clients who are now known by name by many people in the community, and weekly use of the centre by a predominately Polish group of families supporting their emotional wellbeing. Local musicians also used the venue to run an open mic night.

The place became really special with true community ownership, and a wider following of over 1000 and a monthly attendance of up to 450 visits are recorded. Creative Factory has managed to keep the workshop open for over 2 years now.

However, behind the scenes, it has been a continuous battle in a cycle of juggling small grants each requiring regular monitoring paperwork some of this work is paid for within the grants some not, on four occasions we have had as little as £5 in the bank as we straddle gaps in grant funding, many times the core team have struggled to pay their own bills but have made sure the service continues. We simply haven’t had the luxury of time to dedicate to scaling up the grant applications to the level needed, but still we survived through giving our time and riding out the stressful times. 

We also have to juggle the expectation of others. We can’t deliver everything and are regularly approached by services and freelancers to support, develop work and partnership and have to juggle a fine line, willing to try where we can but also have to keep our eye and our main efforts on keeping the core service and centre going.

In early 2020 one such time limping between grants to pay core costs, funds very low on the bank, but very hopeful about some planned Deaf Cafes and Entrepreneurs networking sessions, a combination of hires and sessional work. We had maintained an element of project work alongside running the centre, so were nearing the end of a Heritage Lottery project about Walsall Wrestlers led by another CF artist Steve Pottinger, and just planning a Windrush project Funded by The Church Urban Fund for summer 2020 with a partnership of 5 organisations and local photographer Ade Wressel started a community portraits project, this one without any funding at the time.

Then Covid 19 hit the UK. 

We had to close our doors with the first lockdown in March 2020. All our usual grant bodies closed.

Buoyed by a small health grant and an extension of a small Cohesion grant both adapting to deliver covid support work we turned our attention to transforming our service to the following strands of work.

  • For our 100 or so regulars we developed chat groups/ different platforms for communication
  • We made a list of another 100 or so vulnerable clients/ members splitting them between ourselves and volunteers (where appropriate) to keep in contact and give practical support as necessary. Local shielders were added to this list and new local vulnerable people. In a handful of situations, there have been very serious issues.
  • We developed a local coronavirus support network for our immediate neighbourhood with over 300 households involved, and became the formal local contact to cascade info and to coordinate volunteers and support wellbeing and neighbourhood development. This became the main place for us to cascade information about what we were doing as we could not sustain supporting any demand from 1000 plus contacts on our Facebook page.

As time went on, as a venue we were eligible for a Covid business support grant (and subsequent small lockdown grants), and applied for a Lottery covid support delivery grant, very small grants from Peoples Postcode Lottery and National Youth Agency. So again, juggling multiple grant applications (several more were unsuccessful but still time-consuming), thankfully the grants were mostly lighter in the need for reporting back.

Local support for Creative Factory grew as we found ways to develop socially distanced events around the streets with The local Allotments as partners. We were really good at this and the community response has been amazing. We had to keep the information about our events strictly local to avoid visitors hungry for creative and entertaining activity from coming into the area to keep numbers manageable for social distancing. 

We supported many individuals with some crucial basic practical and emotional help

We developed projects, some with no additional funding, to create large collective artwork part of a raft of ways we tried to help people feel connected, and joined in with a network of ladies, with our ladies making hundreds of washbags for NHS and Care homes which helped people feel less helpless while helping others. The eldest was 95 years old.

We used our windows for special displays involving many people’s art and craftwork and everyone’s windows/ gardens to join in with art trails especially for the children and to deliver positive messages

We made and delivered 100’s of imaginative craft packs many to children and young people which required them to be in touch with neighbours or feel connected in some way

Our deliveries and our support involved doorstep chat visits, phone calls, messages, sometimes we knew we were the only contact for that person.  For a handful, we held one to one sessions in our centre as they did not understand the lockdowns, were deteriorating and helped some in crisis to get the help they needed.

In the autumn we partially opened with small bubble groups for a couple of months before closing with lockdown 2 in December.

Some of the interventions will continue, friendships have been made for life, groups and networks that have made an impact for individuals and communities will continue on. Creative Factory now has an even larger local support base, we hope to continue a local calendar of street-based events. 

The cost along the way has been a roller coaster year for our core team, dealing with our own family vulnerabilities and close bereavements and funerals alongside caring for a community and individuals has been our own personal juggle. We have all had our moments.

We managed to complete the Windrush project after going through many adaptions because of the restrictions but also because of the vulnerabilities of the elderly client group, through the hard work of freelancers Kiani and Yvette from Inspired to Inspire and Unique coaching for U, also through bringing in freelance photographer Nelson Douglas. The Wrestling project got its delayed Walsall exhibition using our windows to be seen by a passing audience so was also able to be completed. 

A lifeline came for Creative Factory as we turned into 2021 in a commission from Xtra Mile CIC from their successful Reignite bid to support local arts organisations to survive coming out of lockdown. We were able to fund and complete the Community Photography project and giant crochet project which have been displayed in our windows, the Arboretum bandstand along with work from the Bridge Art Project and Photo Portraits in a Walsall Town Centre empty shop. The funding from this has supported the organisation to survive January – March when we were again in real danger of folding.

So in spring 2021 as we are coming out of lockdown 3 and we find ourselves in the same position as the year before with £20 In the bank with both our organisation and our core team deciding which bills to pay.  Whilst our Creative Factory work has limped along, we all rely on other freelance work to survive which all stopped for all the lockdowns; and like the nations Art workers have had to face our own difficult personal financial decisions.

The covid grants have now dried up and we have been transitioning back to our pre-Covid centre-based work madly applying for grants which have taken up weeks of our time in an even more competitive world, and have finally successfully secured a Heritage Lottery Cultural Recovery grant, though still not in the bank yet. The purpose of the grant is to pay our core costs for 3 months, buy some equipment and training to try to future proof Creative Factory as an organisation and upskill our core team to future proof our practice. 

As other services and workers come out of Furlough and are keen to get going, we are contacted by a raft of people all seeing what we have achieved and want to meet to find out how we can contribute or freelancers wanting to work with us and frankly, we are exhausted and don’t have the capacity, we are still delivering working/ volunteering all hours as throughout this Covid Year. As an organisation, we need to breathe out, review what we do, how we do it, whilst opening our doors once more, it’s a lot. As workers, we need to take a hard-earned break though can’t yet.

We still have a long way to go to secure core funding for our organisation from July onwards but have faith that we can finally, hopefully scale up to those bigger bids. With more time we can finally also develop 2 Heritage project funding bids that have been on the back burner since long before the Pandemic, one looking at the memories of Walsall Illuminations in partnership with those who worked on them, another looking at the history of local community publishing along with the potential development of a community printing service, both bids involve many local people in their development. So big plans to help with our future sustainability... fingers crossed!

We thank everyone for the amazing support shown by our organisation through this remarkably difficult year. We are so grateful to have survived this far against the odds and we know that having the work and volunteering to do is also a privilege. Our volunteers, the Creative Factory family are truly amazing, without whom we would certainly have faltered. We reopen quietly for 6 people at a time from our more vulnerable clients with Covid-19 precautions in place, our timetable is already full. We hope to scale up as restrictions lift to welcome everyone back in time, and have a multitude of requests to restart social events and organise a day trip (2 coachloads last time, I think we may need 4 this time)... again fingers crossed.

We may seem like a swan gracefully gliding showing our best side up but underneath the not so pretty feet are working furiously hard. Sheer hard graft from many people, some paid hours but mostly unpaid, some good luck and a resilient shapeshifting nature has got us through so far, we may need a rest to catch our breath behind the scenes but hope to carry on… fingers crossed.

Walsall Windrush Generations

A project collecting stories from Walsall's early African and Caribbean Communities

Funded by...

A project collecting stories from Walsall's early African and Caribbean Communities for Windrush Day 2020.

A Creative Partnership Project Involving:

Supported by Walsall For All
Graphic design and photography by Nelson Douglas.



Born 1964.

Much of what I share with you now is from my perspective as a child born in Britain to parents of the Windrush Generation from the Caribbean. What I picked up as a child while growing up?

Some of our elderly people are reluctant to share their experiences. They try not to remember the fact that they were treated less than welcomed by the country they were always intreated to consider the 'mother country'. Many choose not to remember. They have buried their pain very deep.

I know little about my parent's arrival in the UK except the weather, the shared housing and the placard, 'NO BLACKS, NO DOGS, NO IRISH'. They were both hard workers and took menial jobs to make sure that we didn't go without.

Their fears of what might happen if we left the house, limited our lives. When going to school we had to make sure we walked the same way and not detract from the designated path that had other people looking out for us, making sure we arrived.

Since my father came to the UK in the 60's he has never stepped foot back on the soil of his birth. After you have eight children and two adult mouths to feed, house and clothe, it was seen as an excessive luxury.”



From Jamaica to UK 1961.

I was quite happy to be coming to find a new life. I got a job on the railways 5 days after coming to Walsall and stayed until I retired.

One supervisor I was working with came to me one day and said I have to tell you the truth, you know when you people came and was working down Walsall, it made my blood boil he said that he hated us without a cause he was just confessing to me, that he realised that we were real people, we were all the same. You see when you have got a good attitude towards people it makes the difference.

I made so many friends that used to help me out. I would tell them I was a novice, I don't know much and everybody jumped round and helped me because of my approach. There were some that behaved like they know it all but I didn't, I got the help. There was more positive and that override the negative. I choose to focus on the positive.



Jamaica to United Kingdom in 1961.

I came here with £5 in my pocket and joined a friend who took good care of me. "But truly, if I had wings, I would fly back home to Jamaica. Kept asking myself why did I come here, give up my good job as a cabinet maker with wages of £15".

There was a lot of trouble with some white chaps, we had no justice for us when we got picked up by the police, so we worked together and executed our own punishment on anyone who called us nigger or hurt any of our people. We became our own judge and jury.

It only dawned on me a few years ago, I've been in this country 60 years and I've always felt I'm in prison. Very recently I accepted this [UK] is home. Back home in Jamaica most people I know have passed away.

Sun shone 24 hours, 12 months a year and music playing all day long. When we come here, we had to make our own entertainment. We would run a sound system every weekend because we wanted to keep a piece of home.

Slavery was abolished in 1832 when my grandmother was six years old. Some people tell me I live too much in the past, but you can't understand your future without knowing your past.



Born in Liverpool.

My family are from the West African Kru tribe. My maternal Grandfather came to Liverpool before the First World War and married my nan, a local Irish girl.  My Father, also Kru, was born in Liberia, brought up in Nigeria and came to Liverpool in the1930’s. He was a seafarer working in ship’s engine rooms through the Second World War and into the 1960’s. He met and married my mom in Liverpool, I had a good childhood with my three sisters and brother. 

My mom worked in a hostel for overseas students from all over the world, when the students couldn’t get home for Christmas, Mum would invite them all over for Christmas dinner and she would buy them all a present because she didn’t want them to feel left out. 

I didn’t really feel prejudice growing up, later in life as Tawney Owl leader in a Brownies Group, we went to a National Annual Guide meeting and a bloke said to me, “It’s nice to see a bit of colour in the movement” My friend turned around confused and said “Where?” then realising he meant me “That’s just our Clare.”

We moved to Walsall in 1986.”



Arrived in the UK on the 25th August 1965 at 11.00am.

A gentleman collected me in a minibus from the airport to take me to my parents. We travelled down the A34 through Cannock Chase which was lined with trees like the forests in Jamaica.

No sooner had I come here, I started attending a primary school in Pleck in the September. I had some nice teachers and not so nice teachers. I have a scar on my leg where one of the teachers, who shall remain nameless, pulled a chair from beneath me and made me fall. I told my dad who went to the school the next day to have a word with him.

As a young person there was always somewhere to go. I recall leaving school in the middle of the day and going to church to pray, because the kids were picking on me and I just had enough. At parents evening my father was told I skipped school, I had to make sure that I had my reason why and where I was.

We now had our own church that my father helped to purchase. It was open from 6am till late night, we could go in anytime as it was open every day. There was always somewhere for me to go as a teenager. It felt safe.



Friday 6th May 1960 - Came to UK straight to Walsall.

I came on a boat and sailed from Kingston, should have reach in 14 days, but 23 days it took. There was a strike at the port, we transferred from Genoa, and France.

We run out of food on the ship. They gave us: 1 tin a sardine, one boiled egg and a cob.  We travelled all night on the train and the next day transfer on the ferry.

Mih never have it hard. Came to Pat's sister who was here from 1955. I was missing Jamaica. Fireplace with coal and you lock away in a room 4 walls you weren't free like how you were in Jamaica. I didn't have it hard.

I came to somebody and they took care of me. Some people had some tough times when they came. I got a job in 6 days. Mih gaffer was nice to me young man, and they liked mih always go to work dressed. Always work in the bakery so was on the bakery van, from I leave Jamaica and came here. Still do mih bread if mih want to. Still getting mih hand in the flour.



Came to the UK Oct 1970.

I was 16 when I got here in the UK.  At 17 I decided that I was going to join the army. I needed mother's consent to join. She said 'no', I got my aunty to sign it when mum had gone to work. Told her I needed an adult's signature for a job. Technically it was, she signed it and I was going. I was excited.

I remember being on base and they came and said that my sister came to see me, when I got there it was mum telling me I had to come home. We had a little debate and I remained in the army.

Left the army. I wanted a good career. Chose nursing and became a State Registered Nurse (SRN). I worked on a few wards, surgical ward, A&E, men's ward, rheumatology.

Everything you did on the ward was assessed.  You were critiqued by staff and patients. Thankfully, I passed and became a qualified SRN. My nursing went well without much hiccup. I was a nurse for over 30 years. I specialised in midwifery, took 18 months. I was a midwife for 20 years. I've had a good experience since coming to the UK from Jamaica.



March 1962 landed in the UK.

Came from the sunny island of Jamaica to UK where there was snow on the ground and it was very cold. I wanted to go back home immediately. I wasn't stopping here. We started having children, so we stayed. We lived with family, it's different than when you come and live here with the Indians and other people. Being in this country was harder for some than it was for others. I didn't have it that hard. As a family we lived in one room, it wasn't so bad. We moved around a little and then we found a home where I'm still living today 40 plus years now.

Some of us would get on better if we would change our ways. We all know what's happened to our fore parents and we cannot keep carrying the old story on. Keep doing it and you will have nothing good to leave to those coming up. Just leave it!  We can't solve it. No man can sort it out, so leave it to God.

My mother never grew us up saying white people are horrible, no she and dad won't do that, dad says that some of his family is Scottish. It is fantastic sitting and listening to him telling the story. Life for me was good.



Arrived in UK May 1962.

Came to England May 1962 just before my sixteenth birthday in June, the same year Jamaica got independence. I was sent here for better opportunities, you know, we were coming to the mother land.

I joined the nursing cadet at aged 18 then went from there to the nursing area of my choice. I can't say that I was overly hassled by anyone, but there was sometimes, a feeling, an atmosphere. Some patients would tell me in no uncertain terms, they don't want me to look after them. For the more subtle ones it was just a look. I realised that they were as uncertain about me as I was about them. When it was time for them to leave the ward, we were the best of friends. 

When I became a nurse in charge, the staff that were racist and rude towards me I dealt with them down official lines. Some I had a private word with behind closed doors. I chose to not be treated badly. I didn't allow their behaviour to get under my skin.



Came from Jamaica in 1962.

I came to join my mum.  I've grown up and I've always been around people. Love the connection. These days, I love being in my space here. I've had this allotment plot for 7 years now. This place gives me so much peace. I've met a few people from doing gardens, gardening is my thing.

I sit and watch the squirrels and pigeons, just listen to the birds, I've created a space for the bees. When the rain falls, listen right on que. Listen to that sound, you just can't beat being out in nature. You can sit right here and be anywhere in the world. You can't put into words to anyone the tranquillity of an allotment, they have to come and experience it for themselves, it's not escape, but it takes me into a place of peace and creativity when I come here to work.

I love creating with my hands, what I imagine I try and recreate it for this space here and my gardens. Next year that yellow plum tree will grow like an umbrella. Over there will be a collection of white flowers and plants. Creating my own piece of paradise right here on earth.



'One Ring To Bind Them' Exhibition

Celebrating the history of British wrestling in Walsall

Supported by...

Heritage Lottery Fund

The ‘One Ring To Bind Them’ project celebrates the history of British wrestling in Walsall. It has interviews with veterans who were wrestling in the glory days of the 1970s and 80s when it featured every week on World of Sport, and who still get in the ring some forty years later, at an age where most people are thinking of nothing more than retiring and putting their feet up. Their passion for the sport remains undiminished. You’ll also find interviews with some of the young wrestlers from Walsall who they help train, and who hope to carry forward the tradition of British wrestling and put it in front of the next generation of audiences.


The exhibition was shown in Wolverhampton Central Library for three weeks in February 2020, and at a special one-day event in Darlaston Town Hall later that month. Plans for a third exhibition were scuppered by the Covid-19 pandemic, which makes this online record an even more valuable resource. I hope – whether you know anything about British wrestling or not – you enjoy it, and find what these wrestlers have to say every bit as fascinating as I did. Thank you.

I’m very thankful to Scrubber, Bob, and the others for giving up their time to talk about what wrestling has meant – and continues to mean – to them. Special thanks to Mad Dog Maxx for making me welcome and helping set up dates and times for interviews. All photographs in the exhibition are by the hugely talented Nicole Lovell, who was an absolute joy to work with and has created some absolutely stunning pictures. If you want to find out more about her work, you can do so at or follow her on Instagram: @nicolelovellphoto

My thanks and gratitude to Creative Factory in Walsall for their support for this project, and to
National Lottery Heritage Fund for providing funding through their Sharing Heritage programme to make it possible.
Steve Pottinger


Bob Barratt

In 2020 I’ll have been in the job through six different decades, starting in the 1970s, and there’s not many people done that. Not without a break. People go off and come back, you know, they’ll have a few years off – either down to injuries or they just pack up – but I’ve never had a break. I’ve worked all the way through. I’ve been 42 years in the wrestling. I work as the Rock n Roll Express and have done for thirty years or so.

When I started, I had a job at a plastic mouldings firm, working from six in the morning till six at night. If I had a show, I’d be begging them to let me leave at three so I could get there. But I could do a job in Carlisle, say, get home at four in the morning, have three-quarters of an hour kip and then get up and go to work. It was baking hot with the ovens, with a half-hour lunch break in the shift, that was all. Sometimes I’d be dead on my feet. If I wasn’t working I’d just sleep on the sofa.

When I started all those years ago, I never thought I’ll have a 40-year career in wrestling, thanks. You don’t, do you? You’re just pleased to be there. At first I got a couple of jobs, but it was just a little step up. Then I did a job at Digbeth in Birmingham and Max Crabtree were there. He was the kingpin. I did my match, did all right, didn’t think much about it. Normally I’d be lucky if my date sheet had one or two dates in a month, but after that show in Digbeth, myself and Johnny Kidd – who I worked with a lot – our date sheet was 28 or 29 days in the 31. We thought Bloody hell, we’ve made it now! This is the big time!

I decided to give wrestling a go full-time when I got made redundant, in 1988. That’s when I teamed up with Kendo Nagasaki. I had five years with him, and we worked virtually every night of the week, every month, every year for five years. Top of the bill, every night of the week. Without Nagasaki I’d never have got up there. After we split, I carried on, and it bumped me up a bit because I’d been up at the top of the bill. I had official British Welterweight Title, and for them to put the belt on you they must think something of you.

I’ve got this belt now where I’ve been fighting Danny Gold for over a year for it. We’ve had maybe twenty matches for it. Maybe he’ll get the belt eventually, who knows? But not yet. I won’t give it up easy. And if I have to cheat in a match to keep it, well, I’m the villain, aren’t I?

I can still get a reaction from a crowd. I think I can get as much if not more reaction than most others. It’s experience. It’s knowing what you’re doing and when to do it. You get in the ring and nine times out of ten, maybe 99 out of 100, you know the person you’re on with, you know how they work, you know what they’ll do. You get in the ring and do twenty minutes or half an hour, but it’s the 3-4 hours travelling to, and the 3-4 hours travelling home, that’s the hard bit.

I always say to these kids I do seminars with – showing them little bits, passing on what I know, because you try and pass a little bit on – I say to them that I love the job as much now as I did when I started. I enjoy passing on my knowledge. Is it a legacy? I’d like to think so. When I’ve popped my clogs, they might be doing a move and say Bob taught us that. I won’t be here, but it’s nice to know that’ll be the case. Out of the kids here, you might get one stand-out, one really good kid. Ten who you can put on shows. But one stand-out who’ll go right up the ladder, get to top of the bill.

I just love doing it. It’s a lot of jobs, it’s a lot of travelling, but you’re doing something you love.

Cal Silva

I’m 22, I live in Willenhall, and I’ve been wrestling for nearly eight years. It started when I took my ex to a zumba class at the old All-Active gym here in Darlaston. We got there and they went It’s not zumba any more, it’s wrestling. I thought we’d go home, but she said I should give it a go. Yeah… all right then. I’ve always wanted to.

Next Tuesday, I went back and got took through my bumps. They’re your break falls. Wrestling isn’t like UFC where fighters get driven into the floor. Take those kind of hits and your body’s going to break down. That’s why UFC fighters can only fight once every six months, whereas we perform three times a weekend, every weekend of the year. So the first thing you learn, the very first thing you get taught, is how to break your falls, how to minimise the impact. It’s a safety thing. They need to know if they’re teaching you a clothes-line or a body slam, that you know how to take it safely, so they take you away from the rest of the class and you only join them when you’ve learned your bumps.

I went through the bumps perfectly fine, picked them up really quick, and then at the end of the session I landed on my head, and fractured a vertebra in my neck. It didn’t put me off, because it was my own stupidity that got me hurt, it wasn’t wrestling that did it. The break wasn’t a bad one, so when it healed 3-4 weeks later I went back. I’ve been hooked ever since.

When I started wrestling, I was very short-tempered. I wasn’t angry all the time, but it was very easy for people to get at me. I was the kid who had fights and sorted stuff out. I was always in trouble at school. I’d been stabbed. I grew up with my mom and two sisters, and never had a male role model. Then I came into wrestling and it’s full of them. People you look up to and think I want to be like them, I want to be where he is. Back then I was still a little shit. Then I tried behaving like that when I was wrestling, and got put in check very very quickly. That flicked a switch in my head and I thought OK, that’s not how it works in the real world, I’ve got to calm down.

I’ve learned everything from the veterans. Guys like Bob, Scrubber, Matt, they’ve got years and years of experience. Bob’s got more years in wrestling than I’ve been alive, and Matt’s not far off.

It’s not necessarily learning things like them telling you how to do stuff, but you watch when you’re in the ring, you feel what they do to you, where they put you. Or you might talk about a match you’ve got coming up and they tell you, well, I used to do this to win matches, or that to win matches. And it’s not just the wrestling. I’m talking crowd control, when to do certain things, how to do them, what to put in. I can do the most daring top-rope daredevil thing in the world, and it won’t get as much reaction as Matt’ll get from doing a roll-up, because he knows how to work a crowd.

Wrestling’s a way of life. It’s an art form, it’s family. As soon as I meet another wrestler I’ve a certain amount of love and respect for him. Because I know exactly what he’s had to learn, what he’s had to do, to get to where he is. I’ve been wrestling eight years, I’ve had probably over 500 matches, I’m getting up there to be fair, but I could meet a guy on his first show, and I know exactly what he’s had to do to get to that first show, and he’s already got my respect.

I used to watch wrestling at my grandad’s house when I was a kid. Now I’m doing it. And if I hadn’t got into it, honestly, I think I’d be in jail. In jail or in the ground. Instead I meet people all over the country, shake their hand – and we’ve a way of shaking hands – and know they’re a wrestler. I’m going to look after you. And you make friends. And it’s a family.

Cam Wellington

Very sadly since this article was written, Cam Wellington contracted Covid-19 and died on 19th November 2020.  He was 19 years old.

I’m eighteen, and I’m from Bloxwich. My mom and dad were big wrestling fans, so I was brought up watching it on the telly. I’ve always liked it. I went to a couple of WWF shows, when it was still called that, but that was all. Mainly I watched it on the telly. My friend’s mom would go to shows, though, she has done for years. She knew that I was a wrestling fan, so she took me to a carnival show at Pat Collins funfair in Walsall Arboretum. I went over there with her, her son, and another friend, we watched the show, and we asked the wrestlers then about training.

Before that, I wasn’t really aware that they had local wrestling. Well, I was to a degree, because I went to my first ever local show when I was about seven. But I thought it had just come round to Walsall, and would be heading on. I didn’t think it was based locally. So it was only at the Walsall Arboretum show that I found out they trained in Darlaston, and were local wrestlers. A month or two after that, I started.

That was late 2015. I trained in the kids class for two years, then moved up to the adults class. I loved it straightaway, as soon as I started. I loved wrestling anyway, but I loved the training more than I thought I would. I tend to do a sport for a while and then drop off a bit, but I’ve been continuous at wrestling for four years. I think it’s because I already had a passion for it. The other things I did, not so much.

It’s definitely changed my life. It’s knowing I’ll be going out at the weekend to entertain a bunch of people who live around this area. I’ll be going out in the ring in spandex, gurning and being a bit mad, doing crazy things. Like in the show last Xmas when I came back into the ring with a stepladder in the middle of a fight, that was just spur of the moment. I didn’t know what I was going to do, I just saw the stepladder, thought Yes! grabbed it, and knew I had to make this a moment. So I stared into as many people’s faces as I could on the way back, tried to be as intimidating as possible, and over-exaggerated everything I did.

The match got a lot of positive feedback afterwards, from all the other wrestlers, because they were watching from the balcony. And when we went backstage and got changed, we got a load of feedback. It wasn’t really about the ladder, though, it was more the pair bomb I did over the ropes onto the other two lads. It’s one of my proudest matches, I’d say.

Learning from people like Matt and Scrubber, well, they’ve got tons of experience, haven’t they? I know I can always speak to them. It’s easier, because I know them personally, and that makes it easier to pick stuff up, to learn. I was going to say ‘straightaway’ but it isn’t always straightaway, but it helps me pick it up easily.

I love pretty much every aspect of wrestling. I can’t really think of a single thing I dislike. My favourite is performing in front of people, having an opportunity to express myself. What I do in the ring is me, but magnified 100%. I ramp it up. I’ve always had that aspect of drama, of being a showman. It was the same when I did judo, or rugby.

I think I’ll always want to be wrestling. I want more international experience. I went to Portugal earlier in the year, in the summer, and that was my first time wrestling abroad. It was life-changing. It honestly was. Six or seven of us went over, travelling together, and hanging out together. The show was in a car park, an underground car park, set up specially. It was a different atmosphere, and the fans were was different from back home, because they’re from a different country. So it was a learning curve.

The pressure’s always on when you get in the ring, but we know we can deliver, that we can hit it out of the park. And that’s what we do.

Danny Gold

Darlaston is one of my favourite venues, because I grew up here. I used to walk past the Town Hall every day with my mates and think nothing of it. The All-Active gym, where we used to train, was a two-minute walk from my house. When I was 14-15, I used to hang around on the park near there, so to be wrestling there two years later, in front of 300 people, was weird.

It was my brother-in-law who got me into it. He used to wrestle, and he knew I liked it too. I was always watching it on the TV. We were at a family party just before my sixteenth birthday and he said Why don’t you come and try it out? I wasn’t sure. I said I’m this skinny fifteen-year-old kid, I’m going to get battered! He was like no, no, come and try it out. If you don’t like it, you ain’t got to come again. And I thought What have I got to lose?

I came the following Tuesday, and I ain’t looked back since. Don’t get me wrong, I got beat up, but something about it just made me want to come again. And now I’m 23, and I’ve been wrestling for just short of seven years. I love it. Get out there in front of a crowd, and the adrenalin’s like nothing else. It’s a great feeling, it really is. At the same time, you’re nervous. The bigger the show, the more nervous you are, but even for little shows we do I’m still feeling it backstage, and I’m ready to go.

I’ve done around 700, maybe 750 shows. I used to do every show, every week. Fairground shows, whatever. I’d wrestle six times a day. But now I’ve had to slow down how much I do because I’ve had kids. I’ve got to be a bit more careful, cos I don’t want to get home and them go Daddy, why are you hurt? The last thing I want to do is go home and say wrestling’s hurt me.

I’m still learning now. I think everyone is. Even Mad Dog Matt, twenty years he’s been doing it, and he’s still learning new things. All the nitty-gritty stuff, the technical stuff in British wrestling that you can’t learn from watching wrestling on the telly, that’s the hardest thing about it, but I love it. We get a lot of people come and try it for a couple of weeks and decide it’s not for them, and that’s fair enough. If it’s not for you it not for you. I think it’s an acquired taste. We’re all a bit… silly… to want to do this, you know?

What man’s going to want to come and wear lycra in front of a crowd and get beat up, you know what I mean? Everyone of us has got a bit of a switch off somewhere. But for me, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It never gets boring. There’s always something new.

This February I was in Morrisons, just shopping with my girlfriend, and I heard a kid behind me go Mom, that’s Danny Gold! I turned round, and it was a kid I recognised from a show. He goes Can I get your autograph? I say, if you’ve got something for me to sign. And he gave me his arm. There’s people looking at me, they’re just out doing their shopping and thinking Who’s that???

I was quite embarrassed, but at the same time it was a nice feeling to be recognised for what I do, and it made that kid’s day. I know it’s only on a little scale – I’ve not got thousands of people rushing up to me – but to me it’s amazing. We do wrestling for ourselves, because we get something out of it, but the main thing is entertaining the crowd. At the end of the day, we do it for the fans.

Wrestling takes over everything. Apart from my kids – and my girlfriend, I’d better say that – it’s the thing I love the most. It really is. My girlfriend comes to every show, she’s got to know everyone, and now she’s the door lady. Now she’s part of it as much as I am, because we’re a really close unit. The wrestlers are my brothers and their wives are my sisters. That’s what it’s like. We’re really close.

It’s like family to me.

Elise (on the left)

My husband, Mad Dog, got me into wrestling. I was working on the door, I’d say hallo and take you to your seats, and he had the idea the baddie would come and grab me, drag me into the ring, and hit me with something. Choke me a bit. He gave me the sweet talk. Bob’ll come for you and forearm you, he’ll clothes-line you, just take the bump. I was like I dunno… I don’t think it’s going to work. And he said I promise you it’ll work. And Bob said I promise you it’ll work. And how could I say no to Bob?

The audience really went with it. So then he set up a match. Just one. Me tagging with Mad Dog against the Old School. They’d attack him, they’d attack me, he’d help if they attacked me, I’d help if they attacked him.

Obviously, I had to learn all the bumps. We worked really hard. Got together and put this match on, and the fans absolutely loved it. I think I probably surprised a few of them. And myself. Because I was actually all right. I think they expected it to be a bit… crap, maybe, that they’d think good on her for having a go… but I actually did quite well.

I had so many messages off people on the night, saying you’re amazing! I can’t believe you did it! Even from older ladies as well. Because at the time I was nearly 40, so I had a lot of people saying I can’t believe you’ve done that, I couldn’t do that. And I’d like to think that’s why we’ve had a lot of younger girls coming in to wrestle, because they can see that there is a way for girls and women to do it.

You expect wrestlers to be like Big Daddy, or Blondie – who’s been doing it for so long, and who’s just an amazing human being generally, regardless of the wrestling – or huge, muscly men. But there’s such a vast variety of wrestlers that you can fit in, find your place, that little niche that you can make your place. Do that, and you can make it work really well.

I surprised myself. The reaction that I got is what made me carry on, because it was going to be Ok then, but just this once, and now I’ve ended up tagging with women from America, and I’d never in a million years have thought that I could do that. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do it, though. I’m 42. I’ve had six kids. It’s a bit of a toll on the old body.

Hayah (on the right)

For about six months before my mom was in the ring I’d been begging to learn wrestling, but my dad wouldn’t let me. It was my birthday that first time, when she got beat up, and it was about a week later, on the kids’ camp, when I started. I’m fourteen years old and I’ve been training for two and a half years now. I still love it.

My first proper fight in a show was at Pat Collins funfair, tagging with my mom and dad. We made a big deal of it, got our photos taken together, and so on. And my first singles one was a couple of weeks after, because they knew I was ready. I’m a natural villain.

It’s definitely changed me. In general, I’m a very angry person. And it’s helped me to be nicer to people, and be around people. I’m more tolerant of them. Everyone here is family, and if you’re upset they can tell, and if you’ve been working on something for months and you’ve got that move down, they’re dead happy for ya. They’re there, supporting ya.

If there’s a show coming up, mates at school will say Oh, I saw your mom on a poster today! I saw your stepdad on a poster! Are you going to be on a poster? And I’m like No. I don’t let them put me on a poster. Some lads at school think it’s all fake. They say What are you going to do, really? So I tell them, OK, come here. And I put them in a sleeper hold and they soon learn.

I love this, I want a future in it. I’ve been watching and learning for twelve years, every show Matt’s done. I’ve already been offered a training place in Japan. When I’m sixteen, they’ve said I can go out there for three months. That’s a big thing to have. I was so shocked when mom told me, I couldn’t believe she was serious. I cried. And I don’t get emotional.

Leon Jackson

I’m from Leamore in Walsall, and I’ve been training since I was eight years old. My family were big wrestling fans before I was even born. My grandad’s brother, he used to go around watching wrestling. He’d go into Walsall and watch it, he watched Big Daddy fight, things like that. My mom watched it. And then my dad got into it and would watch it on the telly all the time. So, growing up, I used to watch it too. I’ve got other brothers and sisters, but I was the one who clicked onto it the most. I’d watch it with my dad, and spend time with him. And that’s how I started falling in love with wrestling.

My mom found out about the Darlaston wrestling school on the internet. We’d been looking for years, but couldn’t find a place to learn wrestling. She asked me if I wanted to go, I said yeah, and since that day I’ve never looked back. As soon as I started doing it I knew this was what I wanted to do. When I was younger, if anyone asked me what I wanted to do, I’d say I want to be a wrestler, so as soon as I got the opportunity to do it, that was it. It took over.

Friends at the time thought it was stupid. You’re dancing around in tights, that’s what they’d say. Or they’d say it was fake. And I’d tell them, Come and try it. Let me do this to you once, and we’ll see. And you do it, you put them in a hold, and they’re like OK! I get it! I didn’t have very good mates back then, but now I do and they support me all the time.

I’ve learned so much from the older wrestlers. I’ve had the opportunity to wrestle people like Bob, Matt, and watch what they do. See how they know where to be in the ring. Or when to breathe, which may sound silly, but knowing when to breathe in a match is really important. You’ll get really tired doing a ten-minute match. So you watch them, and click on that this is where they’ve stopped, this is where they’re taking it easier. Knowing that, I can now do a ten-minute match and then, if I need to, go out and do another one. I’ve done that. Sometimes we’ve been short of people, so I’ll have wrestled once and then two matches after I’ve gone on again, and then I’ve gone again in a rumble. And knowing when to breathe, when to save your energy, keep your breath, that’s really important.

My first match was just over two years ago. It was scary, I’m not going to lie. Going from wrestling in front of people who you know in training, to wrestling in front of 150-200 people you’ve never seen in your life, who are just staring at you… well… especially in your first match, because you’re nervous, you don’t want to mess up, you don’t want to let the show down. I was stood behind the curtain ready to go out, and the music started and my name was announced… Leon Jackson! … and I froze.

I was trying to go, but my body wouldn’t move. I just couldn’t do it.

And there was another wrestler who literally pushed me out through the curtain. Otherwise I’d have just stood there. If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be doing this now. He pushed me out, and I was like, Oooh, I’m here now! That was my first fight. Darlaston All-Active, 5th August 2017. And I won.

Now when I get in the ring, it’s totally fine. I love entertaining people, and being able to do what I’ve always wanted to do. I forget there are people watching. Obviously I still react when they cheer or boo, but most of the time I don’t really notice they’re there, because I’m concentrating on keeping myself and my opponent safe more than anything.

Hopefully I’ll have a future in wrestling. That’s the end goal. It’s all really challenging, but I love a challenge. And I love wrestling.

Mad Dog Maxx

I started wrestling when I was fifteen. I’d watched a wrestling match on TV and to this day it’s the best wrestling match I’ve ever seen. I was sitting on the floor with my brother watching it and something happened in the match that was so good I rolled backwards and hit my head on the floor. That’s how emotionally invested I was in this match. I sat back up with my head stinging and said I’m going to be a wrestler. That was Sunday morning, 4am. Monday morning I went in to see the careers advisor in the library at school and I told her I was going to be a professional wrestler. She told me I was too small and it was a very silly idea.

I ignored her, left her little office, and went on the school computers to find a place to train. It was hard. There were probably four wrestling schools in the whole of the country. I found a wrestler called Steve Logan who taught wrestling every Sunday at his gym in Birmingham. Being fifteen and from Walsall I didn’t go into Birmingham. I had to get three buses. Now I’ve been to Japan and all over with my wrestling, but at fifteen I used to do my paper round, go home, and play on the computer and that was all I did. So going all the way to Birmingham was daunting.

By August I’d had my first match.

It was at Sutton Coldfield town hall. I’d not been training long, in wrestling terms, so I went to help put the ring up and learn the process of wrestling. Steve came up to me and said have you got your wrestling gear? We’ve had someone pull out, can you wrestle? I said Yeah, of course I’ve got my wrestling gear, yeah I’ll wrestle, I’ll wrestle.

I didn’t have my wrestling gear. I was lying through my teeth. I was just desperate to get on a show. I left the town hall, sprinted to the bus station, caught a bus, then a connection to Walsall, sprinted to my house, got my gear, sprinted back to the bus, raced back to the town hall, got in dripping with sweat, and Steve went where the hell have you been? I said Oh, I’ve just been to McDonalds. I was hungry.

Then it was my first match. I looked too young so they put me in a mask. My opponent grabbed my mask by the earholes, spun it round so I couldn’t see anything, and kicked my head in for two or three minutes. That was it. I lost.

That was August. My dad had no idea I was doing any of this. I’d just signed up to join the 6th form and he was really happy about that. But the holiday camp season was in full swing and someone must have pulled out, because I got offered two weeks of a run in Scotland. I took it. I phoned my dad from a payphone, in Scotland, and told him I was no longer going to be an A-level student and I was now a full-time professional wrestler. He was swearing down the phone so much I just put the receiver down and hoped for the best.

It was the best two weeks ever. I was on £25 a day, which was the most money I’d ever had in my life. I still had a paper round, which was £21 a week and here I was earning £25 a day! It was a no-brainer. Then I got back from Scotland and I didn’t get a booking for six months. So my dad wasn’t too approving of my new career. I was the first kid who could have gone to university, and he had high hopes for me. Then I went and chose something he saw as ridiculous. So it took me a few years to win him round, but I got there. He was, and still is, quite supportive.

The only major injury I’ve had was when I dislocated my shoulder. The first two doctors told me I’d never wrestle again. The next doctor told me I might. I kept going back till I found a doctor who told me I’d be OK. Scrubber and Bob are still wrestling in their 60s. I intend to do that, as long as my body will allow me to.

Mark Atkin

I fight as the Viking Warrior. I’m 45 and I’ve been wrestling for 26 years. I got into it when I was sat there watching it on TV as a kid. Every Saturday at 4 o’clock we’d tune in. My heroes were always the villains, so that’s what I moved toward when I started. Mark Rollerball Rocco and Giant Haystacks were my heroes. I was lucky enough to travel all around the country with Giant Haystacks, and I met Rocco a couple of years back at a reunion. I was gobsmacked. It was like nothing had changed and I was a little kid in front of the TV again as soon as I met him.

How did I get into it? I saw a big feature on British wrestling in the Daily Star when I was about 18 years old. I got in touch and asked Any chance I can come along and train? They said yes, of course. I had to travel down to London, and train with guys down there. I travelled down eight or nine times and then I called it a draw. It was a bit far out of my way.

Then I got in touch with a guy in Merseyside and he said yeah, come along with us. I was green as grass. There was nobody greener than me. I met him one Sunday morning at Birch services just outside Manchester and travelled all the way up to Ayr in Scotland for my debut match. At that point I still knew very little about the business. Didn’t have a clue. Nobody had enlightened me. So for the first six months I got the living crap kicked out of me. But I just kept coming back. The promoter was happy enough about that. He said I can’t pay you much, but I can pay you. We can feed you, you’ve got somewhere to stay when we’re away. And I went round for the first 3-4 years, doing that.

Did it live up to my expectations? Yeah. I knew there wasn’t much money in it, and there wasn’t.

In the ‘90s, wrestling was on its arse. There were just three companies you could work for. Before that, there’d been maybe 20-25, but it had dropped down to three. Then it went on the up again, and by the early 2000s I got busier and busier, and was making good money at it. There were years when I wrestled 750 matches.

Then I left wrestling for a while. I’ve always had the other side of things – metal. My favourite bands are Metallica, Slayer and the like, and I sing in bands. So in 2005 I took a break from wrestling. An old guitarist I used to work with got in touch and said Do you want to write some songs? So we wrote some songs and I went out singing with a metal band called Pyro. We hit the point where we were just about to get signed, and then the drummer – whose whole life had been geared around being signed – called it a draw and said I don’t want to do this. All we had to do was pay for an EP, and we had the money within the band kitty to pay for it. We just had to turn up, record it, and we were getting signed. We had a distribution deal in place with a company. And it all fell through.

At this point I had a broken heart from leaving the wrestling. Then I had a broken heart from the band falling through. The only constant I’ve had in my life for the past nearly 30 years is I’ve got a beautiful wife, and two kids, and they’ve always kept me on an even keel. You get that amazing high of wrestling – I went over to Ireland and each day for the entire ten days we were away we did a matinee show and an evening show and both were 4000 sellouts. It was chocka. And then you get home and the dog’s higher in the pecking order than you.

It keeps your feet on the ground. You come back home and you’re low on the totem pole. You put the bins out, do this, do that. Because they’ve got on without you. My wife brought up our two boys for the first few years on her own, working really hard, working two jobs as well. It’s tough. That’s not just in our business.

It’s true for everyone who goes away to work and earn money for their family.

Scrubber Daly

I’m 64. I started wrestling in 1983. I loved watching it, and when I were made redundant, I decided to get into wrestling. I was given Pat Roach’s address because he was running a course in Birmingham. I rang him up, and he told me how much it would cost. Because I was out of work, some friends got together, had a whip round for me and raised the money. Pat came over, had photos took for the local paper of him receiving the cheque from me, and it just went from there.

I done eight weekends with Pat at his gym in Birmingham, come home every weekend black and blue where he’d picked me up and slammed me on a concrete floor. There were 131 on the course and only two of us continued it. The other fella, Andy, he didn’t stay in the business long. But I did. I loved it.

British wrestling was still on the telly then. It was big. In summer, I’d be out seven nights a week. I’d work all day, go out for a match that evening, get home at 2 or 3 in the morning – or in time to get changed and go to work – then I’d do it again that next night. I were like a zombie. I look back sometimes and wonder how I did it. We’d start at Blackpool on Sunday, you could be down at Brighton on the Monday, Skegness on the Tuesday, down south at Eastbourne or Bournemouth again, back up, somewhere else the next night, and then the following Sunday I’d end up at Yarmouth. I bought a brand-new Granada and I had to take it back after a week for its first service. I’d done over 6000 miles in the week, and it was like that all summer.

I’ve been to South Africa twice, the Middle East five times, Kuwait, India, France, Germany… I never dreamed when I started training with Pat Roach that wrestling would take me these places. It’s like Pat said when he came to get that cheque, he says I can teach ya, but you might get in the ring the first time, get punched in the nose, and say This ain’t for me. But it didn’t bother me. I’d always been a villain when I played football. I were always getting booked. So it didn’t bother me.

People say I’m mad. I’ve heard that a lot.

On my first trip to South Africa I caused a riot and had to be locked in the changing rooms. It was a tag match in Capetown. As I walked to the ring I took the handcuffs off the guard who stood by the dressing room door and put them in my pocket. I climbed in the ring, the South African champion climbed in, and I handcuffed him to the ropes. It caused an absolute riot. The crowd were throwing chairs, tables, big ashtrays, anything and everything. They got me in the dressing room, put armed guards on the door, and I had to wait till the whole place was empty before they could get me to the hotel.

For me, it was job done. The more I can wind them up, the better I know I’ve done my job. The promoter loved it, absolutely loved it.

Five years ago I had an accident at work, and crushed my spinal cord. They told me I’d never walk again. I got myself walking. First it was with two sticks. Now it’s one. Then I went back in the ring. It was brilliant. It’s given me a new lease of life. I know I’m not supposed to do it, but why not? It’s like my physio said You shouldn’t be doing it, but I know you enjoy it and god forbid but if anything ever did happen, I know I could go to your funeral with a clear mind. I’ve advised you not to do it, but it’s something you want to do, and I’m glad, because you’re a totally different man from when you started coming to me.

It’s important to me to pass on what I’ve learned and my experience to this new crop of wrestlers. That’s why I like to help with the training. I go to Darlaston and help with training the kids and the adults. I don’t push in, but if somebody’s doing something wrong, when Matt’s teaching them he can’t always see it, but another pair of eyes, I can pick up that someone’s doing something wrong and he’ll keep an eye on it. It’s good, and I enjoy it.

You’ve got to have passion in this game. You’ve got to have it, or you might as well pack up and go home. I loved it in 1983 when I started, and I still do. It gets into you and you can’t stop.

Tommy Stewart

I was at a wrestling match with my dad, and I noticed Mick McManus come out. I’d always wanted to meet him, so my dad took me over, we got talking to him, and I asked How do I get into this? He said hang on, I’ll go and get the man to talk to, and he brought out Dave Bond, Butcher Bond, who was one of the best heavyweights you could ever meet, and such a nice person. And that was how it all started.

I started training. I must have improved. I didn’t think I had, but I must have, because six months in the guy who ran the gym had a phone call. It was off Jimmy Hagan who ran the holiday camps, and he was looking for a small bloke to work the camps. People think wrestlers have to be huge, but there’s nothing to me.

I head down to Camber Sands. Two blokes pick me up from the train station. They say the ring’s up, and your opponent will be here when we get to the camp. I sit in the dressing room, my bag beside me, and them two went on. No-one’s turned up for me to work with. I think What’s going on here? They come off and I ask Am I working with one of you? They say no. Then the door bursts open. It was Butch Mason. 25-stone of him. I looked at my bag and thought I’ll get out of here, he’ll kill me.

I ended up staying with Butch for a season and a half. Worked with him all the time, three shows a day. He was a darling. We’d play chess in the back of the van, we’d go out and have orangeades together, maybe a couple of beers now and then. He became a really close friend. A few times he stayed with me and my wife, because we’d do a three-week circuit. One week Blackpool and Wales, next week Cornwall and Devon, and then down to Kent. We’d do 14 or 15 jobs a week, starting on a Sunday, finishing on a Friday afternoon.

I’m small, but I can do the job. And if you click with the lads, they’ll look after you. You look after each other, because at the end of the day it takes two to tango, and if one doesn’t want to tango, the other one looks stupid.

I wrestled for 23 years. 90% of that was on the holiday camps in the summer. Well, I say the summer, but we got 10-11 months out of the season. We’d do Pontins, Warners, Hagans, private sites all over the country. The other couple of months I’d go on the halls, for Dale Martin’s, and Brian Dixon.

What I liked about the camps was, you met characters. Holidaymakers don’t know what wrestling is, they just like the goodie and the baddie. I did all right because I was on with Butch, so people used to feel sorry for me, and I’d get drinks bought all the time. At the end of the show, we’d never touch the ring. We’d put it up, but we’d have holidaymakers come up and say What corner post do you want me to hold, mate? And they’d put the ring back in the van for us. We’d just supervise. I’ve known that ring down and in the back of the van within three minutes! Which is good going.

Then Health & Safety kicked in and they weren’t allowed to touch it. The lads today, if they were in my era, they’d realise they’re missing out on a lot. When we was on the camps, we met proper characters. Shane Ritchie was a holidaymaker when I first met him. Then he became a bluecoat, then an entertainments manager. Some days we’d go out fishing with Gary Wilmot, then go for a curry after. Or have a drink with Eric Bristow, or Jocky Wilson, or Mike Reid. I met lovely people who remain really good friends to this day. That’s what it’s all about.

Wrestling was my life. It paid my mortgage. It gave me true friends, and true friends are for life.

Matt (the referee)

Being a referee is eye-opening. You get to learn a little bit more how the business works, a lot quicker, because you have to know the structure, rather than just a move. If you’re a wrestler in a match, you might need to know X, Y, and Z, but if you’re a ref you’ve got to know a lot of little things. You’ve got to know where to stand, and how to move round. It’s no good walking round just three sides of the ring, because then you’re blocking the view, you’re standing between the wrestlers and the crowd, so you’ve always got to be moving.

If one wrestler’s got a hold on the other and they want to portray what’s happening, but I’m in the way and the crowd can’t see, that’s no good. You might know how to ref a match, but you also need to know all the little things which make sure that being the third man in the ring doesn’t make you a problem. The crowd shouldn’t be bothered about the ref. If I’m doing my job properly, the crowd shouldn’t be bothered about me at all.

If you speak to Mad Dog or Blondie Bob Barratt, they’ll say the referee’s the third man, he has an important role in communication, in making sure everyone can see. Some blokes who’ve never refereed before, they won’t know that. There’s a very specific set of skills which you wouldn’t have to use if you were a wrestler.

I’m 37, and I’ve been training for eight years. I was living in Cannock when I started – one Sunday I was playing 5-a-side football in Penkridge, there was a show just two miles down the road, and I thought Why not watch it? That was it. I was hooked. On training days, I’d leave the house at eight in the morning, go to work, catch a couple of buses to get to training, and get back home at 10.30 at night. Now I live in Bloxwich, which makes everything so much easier.

The child inside me always wants to be the wrestler, to be living the child’s dream, and I do wrestle sometimes. I’m good at the basics, making sure the way you fall that you don’t get hurt, break falls, and the like. I can bump quite hard and – touch wood – I haven’t hurt myself. Although people have hurt me! But at the end of the day I just love all of it. Whatever job needs doing, I’m here to do. There’s nothing better than being backstage, and the camaraderie with your friends. You’re all – hopefully – in the same ship, steaming to the same destination. I’m one of the rare people who say it’s nice just to be involved. Whatever aspect it is.

I’ve refereed over 1500 bouts. My 1500th was at Riley’s in Wolverhampton. Mad Dog versus Ethan Page. He’s on telly now, in one of the biggest wrestling companies in the world. My first match as referee? At a cricket pavilion. With seven people in the crowd. No, I tell a lie. Four people in the crowd, because another company were running the show and it wasn’t advertised.

Every show is different, but the oddest show we’ve done was about six years ago, in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. It was a Pat Collins fair, but in the middle of the High Street. All well and good. We always put on a warm-up match, an up-and-coming guy against an experienced wrestler, something like that, something that’ll draw the crowd in. And halfway through the match there were a couple of women stilt-walkers in costume turned up, and then, as I turned round, there was a Dalek.

A Dalek at the ringside. Commentating on the match. In the Dalek voice.

I couldn’t stop laughing. For ten minutes it commentated – I’ve still got photos somewhere – and a referee, you can’t be seen to be smiling or laughing, but there’s a Dalek there so you’ve got to give a bit of leniency. When the match was over, it’s 1… 2… 3… and raise the hand of the winner. The Dalek says of the guy who lost This combatant has been exterminated! turns round, and trundles off into the distance, never to be seen again.

That was really weird.

Carolyn (a wrestling fan)

The first time I went to wrestling was when we went to see Big Daddy at Walsall Town Hall. Me mom took us, and I loved it. Well, I already loved it anyway. I used to watch it on the Saturday afternoon on the telly.

I was thirteen then, and sometimes we’d go to Wolverhampton Civic Hall. I’ve seen too many wrestlers to say I have a favourite, but I loved Rollerball Rocco, and his feuds with Kendo were just amazing. Once, when I was younger and I had a car, I went to wrestling ten times in a fortnight. All up and down the country. Wolverhampton, Leamington, all the way up to Oldham and Sheffield. I loved it.

Then wrestling stopped being on the telly, and almost disappeared. I guess it’s bigger again now.

I love the atmosphere. You can switch off and forget everything, you can shout as loud as you want. And that’s what I always tell my kids – it’s on of those places where you can let it all go, shout, and enjoy it.

Mat (a wrestling fan)

I’m 41 and I’ve been coming to wrestling since I was about 3 years old. Wrestling was still on the telly back then. I used to sit on my dad’s lap on a Saturday afternoon and watch World of Sport. Used to sit there, waiting, all excited.

Me dad got me into it. When you’re growing up, most dads take you to the football. Mine didn’t. He took me to the wrestling. So it’s in my blood, really. I saw all the big names, and I’m very good friends with Kashmir Singh. I saw Bob Barratt, Giant Haystacks, Rollerball Rocco, Marty Jones, Kendo Nagasaki. I’ve got a signed mask of his. I collect memorabilia as well.

What do I love about wrestling? It’s exciting, it’s entertaining. I’ve been brought up on it. People get excited about football, or tennis. I don’t. I get excited about wrestling. That’s what I follow. I’ve travelled round the country to different shows, and I’m like a big kid.

It’s like a family, isn’t it? Like a big family.

John (a wrestling fan)

I started following wrestling at the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton fifty years or more ago. I used to go with my brother in law. He started taking us on a Tuesday night, and we’d go every fortnight. We saw all the big names: Giant Haystacks, Big Daddy, Rollerball Rocco, Kashmir Singh, Scrubber Daly, Marty Jones.

I went down to London once. Up to Stoke, too. Now we come to Darlaston, and go over to Rushall. I’m 62 now, and it’s good to see the old school stuff coming back again. We never went for years after the Civic closed, but then we came to Darlaston five, six years ago and we got the bug again.

We never looked back.


Arthur (a wrestling fan)

I used to go to wrestling with two friends in the 1970s. We’d go to Wolverhampton Civic Hall and we saw all the stars: Mark Rocco, Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki. I was hooked then. Then, all of a sudden, wrestling just stopped. But in these last years, it’s started up again, and we’ve come ever since. I probably enjoy it even more now than when I first went.

I’m older, I understand it more. I go sometimes two, three times a week. If there’s a show on, I try my best to come. Here, Bilston, Wolverhampton, wherever. I enjoy every minute.

It’s the same now as it was then. You know you’re safe. You let off steam, people here are your friends. The crowd are brilliant. The wrestlers are brilliant.

You can’t fault it.

'pUNK IN WALSALL' Exhibition

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of punk

Punk rock was probably the most life-changing subculture of our times. It stretched way beyond music, into lifestyle, attitude, and politics. 2016 is the 40th anniversary of punk, and to celebrate that we created this exhibition, which was shown at New Art Gallery, Walsall (December 2016) and Parkside Gallery, Birmingham City University (Jan-Feb 2017).

The exhibition’s aim was to mark the impact of punk on people in one town in the West Midlands: Walsall. Much of the media coverage about punk forty years on concentrated on London, or on iconic figures on the music scene, but it’s in towns like Walsall that punk kicked down doors, overturned expectations, and opened new opportunities in how to live your life.

Our project was never intended to give a full and exhaustive picture of the Walsall punk scene. There were people involved in the scene who have moved away, or couldn’t make the dates where we did the interviews and took photos, or who didn’t want to be involved. We’re very thankful to the people who did give up their time to talk about their experiences – good and bad – and tell us what punk meant, and still means, to them.

Thanks, too, to Sophie Pitchford for taking the photographs, to Creative Factory in Walsall for their support for this project, and for Heritage Lottery Fund for providing the fund through their Sharing Heritage programme. We couldn’t have done it without them.
Steve Pottinger