Our straight talking Lancashire lass takes a sideways look at the daily news.
It is NOT grim up north!
When you think of The North, what springs to mind? Rain? Clouds? Despair? Grey, terraced landscapes and run down council estates? Soul-crushing poverty, hoards of feral kids and fat-ankled old women pulling shopping trolleys? This is what the mainstream media evidently thinks.
The reason I ask is because Accrington, a small town in North East Lancashire has made the headlines after it was revealed that it has one of the highest levels of unoccupied houses in the country. Why do I care? Because I am from a smaller town next door to Accrington, called Oswaldtwistle (yep, try saying that after you’ve had a few) and I know the area very well.
The story is that five streets in the Woodnook area of Accrington will be revamped in a bid to regenerate the area. To put this into perspective, this area was once a very busy, respectable area full of families and workers. Today, the area is desolate. Only 25% of the houses have any occupants, the rest are derelict. But the Daily Mail describes Accrington as a ‘dying ghost-town’, which is utter nonsense. It is all too easy for some ignorant journo to sit in their London office and come up with guff like this.
True, the town is in desperate need of help. Areas like Woodnook are no-go zones after dark. The town centre was once a thriving, bustling area filled with independent shops – bakeries, grocers, butchers, bookshops, perfumeries, music shops, shops that sold art materials, shops that sold vintage clothes… It has a recently renovated Victorian market place and the centre comprises grand civic buildings.
But over the years, bad town planning, terrible management from the council, (possible) corruption, high unemployment and austerity have transformed this lovely town into a hideous advert for the Grim North. The boulevard is now stuffed full of Pound Shops and charity stores. The only business that opened recently was a seedy strip club. The centre is littered with scores of empty premises. It is horrible.
Yes, Accrington needs investment. It needs more jobs. It needs these empty streets to be full again. Because despite the awfulness, I still believe that it is NOT grim Up North. And Accrington is not a ‘dying ghost-town’.
Run-down towns like Accrington are common, and they are a direct result of economics and governments pumping money from the coffers into London and the South. Times are hard, but the North has historically been exploited by captains of industry and neglected by Whitehall.
Yet the North has some of the most stunning scenery in the UK. Generally, people are extremely friendly and welcoming, and the quality of life is much better. I spent my twenties living in London, and I choose Lancashire any day over the capital. My money certainly goes further.
And with sensible investment and regeneration, places like Accrington can, and should be restored to their former glory. Amen.