For a long time, the residents of Camden Street would only venture into their alleyway to quickly get rid of their bin bags.
Blighted by fly-tipping and overrun with vermin, the back alley was unsafe and a target for anti-social behaviour.
But Kasper Czarnocki and his wife Kinga had seen enough – and decided to take action, contacting Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston on social media to see what they could do.
The family rallied neighbours and volunteers and, with funding and support from Middlesbrough Council’s Amazing Alleys project, they transformed where they live.
Now, the alleyway is a true community space, adorned with original graffiti artwork and decorated with dozens of colourful hanging baskets of flowers.
“This was a place that you would avoid, it was disgusting, we had real issues with fly-tipping and rats,” said Kasper (above, left), 36, who is originally from Poland but has lived in Camden Street for 15 years.
“We’ve never had a space for the kids to play or for us to get outside, and after the year and a half we have had we thought ‘enough is enough’.”
With the help of the council’s Amazing Alley project and mural artist Dan Walls (above, right) of Illumination Wall Arts in Bishop Auckland, the alley’s tired and dirty walls were completely overhauled.
Joined by neighbours, volunteers and Mayor Preston, the alleyway was cleared and cleaned, painted and decorated over a four-day period during the May bank holiday.
“What a fantastic day it was, everyone got together and it has brought us as neighbours much closer together,” continued Kasper, who said his son Kajtek, five, has now made friends with neighbours and can play out for the first time.
“We’re very grateful for the support and help we got from the council, but I have one message – if you want to do something, then do it. Nobody will come and do it for you. We decided to take responsibility and it’s turned out brilliant.”
Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston said: “Kasper and Kinga and everyone who got involved in the amazing transformation of their alleyway are the best of Middlesbrough.
“They were sick of the mess and anti-social behaviour and took matters into their own hands to do something about it.
“With support and money from Middlesbrough Council and the help of some incredible volunteers, they’ve produced this stunning space with artwork, flowers and seating.
“It’s really brought the community together and provided kids with a safe and clean place to play.
“More communities across the town are pulling together in similar ways to transform their alleys with the backing of the council.
“Sadly, fly tippers and bin rummagers are constantly leaving our alleys in a disgusting state, impacting on the lives of decent people. The only way to stop these criminals is to catch and prosecute them – so we’re investing more money to install even more CCTV cameras across the town to catch them red-handed.”
Neighbour Sheila Singleton has lived in the area for 50 years.
“You used to just run out and throw your rubbish in the bin, it was disgusting,” said Sheila, 73.
“If you just sit out on your doorstep on your own you feel stupid, I’ve felt lonely.
“Now, I’m never away from here – it’s changed my life. I’m sitting outside all the time and I’ve met loads of people.”
Kinga, 43, also mum to daughter Kaya, eight, and a fashion design student at Teesside University, agreed: “It’s so nice to feel part of the community.
“We spend an hour every day watering the flowers but we just love being out here.”
Dan said: “As soon as Kasper got in touch, I knew I wanted to get involved.
“We want to expand this now and help other people transform their community.