I leave the office and drive through the village. Past houses that are boarded up because no one will buy them or rent them. Past shops that have been boarded up since I moved here in March 2007. (It is now 2011.) Past buildings that were once chapels but are no longer used. Through a village that has lost its shine, and that is seen as an area in need of special help.
What can be done? The government has been trying for years. There have been community projects for years. People are used to being downtrodden by employers once the mine owners. People are used to other people coming in and solving their problems by providing them with jobs or by providing benefits. Even the church in past centuries has ordered people around in this area as it ran the farms that provided food for the cathedral staff. The situation is not getting any better and the old support mechanisms are disappearing.
Here in the UK, everything that was once supported by public money is on the retreat. The local further education college is making 20 to 30% of its staff redundant this summer (2011). They are closing whole departments and reducing its hours so that it offers evening classes on 3 nights a week rather than 4. It is tightening its rules in relation to who gets help in terms of course fees and some people I know who want to do courses this autumn will struggle to pay for them now they have to pay the full course fees. They are not receiving as much money from the public purse as they used to do.
It is not as easy to find business support as the advice agencies thrived on government money. The area around us has been one which has been singled out for special help because it is seen as so needy. We do not have the culture of paying for business coaches as they do in the US. There are loads of other examples of cutting back on services that are provided by local councils and even charities.
Update September 2015
In 2013 the building that was used for various projects by the community association was closed. They had tried various things to help change the situation. They had taken over the post office when both the post offices nearby closed for different reasons. They had tried setting up a computer area offering courses and even tried setting up a call centre in it. They were a venue for some of the council run courses designed to improve the health of the community.
It was sold for offices although I did not see what happened next. I had decided it was time that I lived closer to my family. To do that I had to sell up and leave the area. That is when I realised the level of prejudice against the area.
There was one day when I told someone I was moving during a casual conversation in the supermarket. I was not prepared for their reaction when I said where it was. They took a few steps backwards very quickly making it very obvious by their words and actions that there was no way that they would dream of living in that place.
The estate agent who was helping me sell the house described it as a “high price house in a low price area”. I soon realised that the only people who would be interested in buying it were people who already lived there and could handle the impact of its reputation or people from outside who did not know it.
I think we all know communities like this. They are everywhere. They are the ones that where you get a lot of house for your money. They are the ones that look sad and neglected when you drive through them. They are the ones that attract people who don’t mind being in a community that seems to struggle with its sense of worth because they themselves struggle with their own sense of self-worth. They are the communities that have a fight on their hands being all that they could be.