I drove across country to the Vale of Evesham on mostly A and B roads from St. Mary through countryside that is now in danger of becoming some sort of ‘Countryfile’ utopia. A leisure area for cyclists and horse riders, with manicured hedges, large fields with what seems in summer rapeseed or linseed, willow with some cereal crops, but nothing like the amount of crops that were once common, cabbage, sprouts, beans, carrots, potatoes, and animals, milk herds (now mostly a thing of the past), along with beef, although sheep seem to be making a comeback. Few jobs it seems in agriculture these days and economy of scale provided by huge machines that small farmers could never hope to afford.
In Evesham, once the capital of salad crops and asparagus, tomatoes and onions, only now a fraction of the former smallholdings and glass in evidence. At one time much of the local population worked in the industry and packing stations.
Worcester, once the home of engineering works porcelain and glove-making is now full of tourism and jobs provided by the public sector and the education sector. The University of Worcester, once a teacher training college, owns it seems much of Worcester and has thousands of students, which is at least good for the ‘buy to let’ accommodation sector.
I followed the A38 to Bromsgrove, once home to Garlington’s, which had one of the largest engineering hydraulic presses in Europe. There were also other major employers in the town which at one time was home to the Bromsgrove Guild that made the gates that adorn the entrance to Buckingham Palace. Within the memory of baby boomers, Bromsgrove was a small market town with a produce market and cattle market. Today the High Street is unrecognisable with the usual charity shops and occasional retail outlets struggling against four national supermarket chains on the outskirts. There are small retail parks and the town seems to be merely a dormitory suburb of Birmingham.
Perhaps the most depressing part of our journey was through Redditch, the home of Springs and Needles and other high-tech large industrial companies providing local skilled jobs for local people with products known throughout the world. Now small business enterprises and huge housing estates providing identikit houses the same the country over.
Less than 10 miles north is Longbridge, once part of the motor industry that provided thousands of jobs in various sectors across the country never mind local communities. I often wonder how many skilled workers dumped following the MG/Rover debacle ever found skilled work again or did they all end up working in the ‘service sector’. Now just a tiny fraction of the complex remains, the rest more identikit housing and a ‘new’ village centre and retail park providing 400 plus jobs in a light engineering environment.
The final part of my journey was into central Birmingham, the old centre now unrecognisable even from the 1980s with a vibrant retail business and leisure centre. A tourist mecca, there is now an international conference centre alongside the world class NEC and Birmingham Airport with its hundreds of thousands of passengers a year has a first-class reputation.
On the other hand there are, as in many previously industrial cities in the Midlands, tensions caused by immigration, manifesting itself with overcrowding of public services, overcrowded roads and schools struggling with pupils who have a myriad of cultural and religious backgrounds with language often a particular difficulty but ignored by the media and politicians but not by the people who have seen their communities changed beyond recognition.
Many people leaving the urban areas of our great and expanding cities will tell you that they left for a better quality of life and education and employment opportunities, residents of what were once thriving small towns or villages are seeing their countryside and wildlife disappearing under this continued migration. Roads and lanes become congested, public services such as health and schools are under what seems unremitting pressure, and sometimes housing developments of 2000 homes without extra provision of services and infrastructure.
The coast or seaside as we used to call it seems now to be the province of Chelsea tractors, tourism and holiday homes and not much else unless you are living in that part of say East Anglia that supports the wind farm generating industry. I’m told by one enthusiast some towns on the coast are set to be the new Inverness and Aberdeen as the industry expands, although one long term resident of a port now expanded to develop with the industry told me that they (the residents) were told that it would generate more employment opportunities which it did, but not, she told me, for local people.
I can’t help thinking that the expansion of identikit communities, the erosion of traditions, is destroying the rich diversity of our people and communities. In living memory each town had its own character, each county its age-old traditions, buildings were different, made from local designs and local materials. This is all under direct threat from over-population and big business with its emphasis on one size fits all and unit costs, and with a docile public that seems to be quite happy to watch as the country is transformed into what? Only time will tell.
We are told constantly by politicians and the media what is good for us, what we should think, and that diversity is our strength. So why then has it been almost destroyed? The wrong kind of diversity it seems and just look at what big business and the media are creating, not one nation as the politicians keep telling us, but two nations, one pretentious and for the wealthy, the people of the ‘lifestyle’ magazine supplement and media advertising, the people of the ‘new’ shopping malls. The other, well take your choice, that’s if you can find or afford any.