|Rochdale's glorious Town Hall looking a touch|
Impressionist last time I was there
In the recent list of UK towns and cities in the greatest economic decline... Rochdale came out the worst in the country. Admittedly, the council's chief executive said it was old data, and things are being transformed now - but from all I hear it has a long way to go. When I was young, Rochdale was still a mill town - now I don't think it knows what it is, and the town centre shows it, all too horribly.
Then there's the other difficulties. On a light note there was the Gillian Duffy incident that was a bit of nightmare for Gordon Brown's 2010 election campaign. But far darker is the alleged child abuse legacy of the late MP Cyril Smith and the troubles of current MP Simon Danczuk, who didn't exactly cover himself in glory by sending unwise tweets to a teenager. And then there was the 2012 trial, where Rochdale achieved the dubious first of having the first gang of of grooming sex offenders tried. And Rochdale's flooding over the winter was hardly ever covered by the media, but as bad as that suffered by several other better-publicised locations. Oh, and another top 10 puts Rochdale third in the country for asylum seekers for head of population - not in itself a bad thing, but not ideal, given the town's battered state and weak resources.
Thankfully, it's not all bad news. As a location it has a lot going for it (apart from the weather). When I first moved down south to work, I got off a train at South Ruislip, hunting somewhere to live. I went up on the railway bridge, and I all I could see in any direction was buildings. In Rochdale, you are rarely out of sight of the high moors, with around two thirds of the town surrounded by wild moorland. I was up in Rochdale in 2013 handing out prizes at Rochdale Sixth Form College - and their work is really inspiring. I'm sure there are other good things going on. Rochdale has certainly produced a few famous people, from John Bright the anti-corn law protester, through singers Gracie Fields, Lisa Stansfield, actor Anna Friel, presenters Bill Oddie, Andy and Liz Kershaw and the like. Not to mention being the founding home of the Co-op movement. But at the moment, on the rare occasions I go back, it feels a sad place.
Is this my fault (in part)? Am I like the people who bemoan the decline of the UK while living abroad? I hope not. I moved away to get a job - which would have happened just as much if I'd lived in leafy Tunbridge Wells as it would coming from Rochdale. I've now lived two thirds of my life away from Rochdale. And I don't suppose I would ever move back, because the rest of my family hasn't got that same connection. But it doesn't stop me being sad. I will always be from Rochdale, always a Lancastrian - and if the Northern Powerhouse is to achieve anything, I hope it's to give places like Rochdale, and their people, a chance of bringing back some pride.