'Hello, this is Preston': Project aims to unite Preston residents around the world

·3 min read

From a clog-dancing world champion to a Cuban shark hunter, the people who live in the world's many Prestons have some interesting tales to tell.

And a performance arts group in the U.K. is on a mission to collect them all.

Preston Calling — a project to unite people who call Preston home and help keep the loneliness of the pandemic at bay — was launched last year by Derelict, a non-profit arts organization based in Preston, Lancashire.

"Now that we've been able to connect with people all over the world, it's made people feel much more included in the world and it's giving people much more hope," project co-ordinator Philip Sykes told CBC Radio's Information Morning. "It's been a bit of a hopeless time, I have to say, for us anyway in the U.K."

When his group had to shelve many of its projects last year, it decided to turn to the telephone instead.

"We liked the idea of calling someone," Sykes said. "You know, we could say, 'Hello, this is Preston' and they could say 'Hello, we're Preston, too.'"

So far, Preston Calling has found 60 villages, towns and cities that share the name, most in English-speaking Commonwealth countries, including the Prestons in Nova Scotia.

The historic Black communities on the outskirts of Halifax are made up of neighbouring North Preston, East Preston and Cherry Brook.

"I thought it was the most cool thing in the world, like, I thought maybe there might have been a couple of other Prestons … but I had no idea there were 60," said Tara Taylor, a playwright from East Preston who contributed to the project.

She shared some of her favourite memories and spaces from her hometown, which have been collected on the group's website.

"My favourite place out here is our river next to the church and we actually — way back in the day — used to baptize people in the river," Taylor said.

The popular story that the Prestons were named after Rev. Richard Preston, who escaped slavery in the U.S. and became a leader in the African Nova Scotian community, isn't actually true, Taylor said.

"He actually came here in search of his mother and it was already called Preston, so he took the name on as Preston," she said. "So we commonly think that it was named after him for coming here, but it's actually the opposite way around."

Taylor is now trying to find out more information about the name Preston and where it came from.

In addition to the submissions from Preston residents that are compiled online, Preston Calling is also releasing a podcast with conversations with people from around the world.

So far Sykes has met a store owner in Preston, Kentucky, who used to be the world's clog-dancing champion and performed in venues in the U.K. and U.S.

Philip Sykes
Philip Sykes

He also met a woman from Preston, Cuba with a very impressive grandfather.

"She's actually got my favourite story, which is that there was a particularly troublesome shark in Preston, Cuba, called Don Pepe and her grandfather was actually able to track it down and caught the shark — so some really, really amazing stories," said Sykes.

For Taylor, reflecting on what she loves about her hometown has her feeling a special bond with all the other Prestons out there.

"I want a tour," she said. "I want to go visit all of them and I want us to all bring the beautiful sights from each one of our towns."