It’s been a long time since I got back to Wigan.
Located equidistant between Liverpool and Manchester, the old mining town stood proudly on the banks of the Douglas River and later the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, at least since the seventh century.
It has been my family’s home since 1960.
I went there to school in the 70s when Labor couldn’t decide what high school should look like – high schools were a short and catastrophic experiment – and the place of my first job in journalism when in the 80s miners “As a result of the strike more part of the north of the country opposed the Thatcher government.
Times have changed, and although once resilient Labor – Wigan has been red since 1918 – support has waned as the population has changed.
In the 2019 general election, Lisa Nandy returned to parliament with a majority of 6,700 votes and a share of 46%, which fell sharply after I covered my first election count in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher came to power.
So how do people in my part of the world now feel about the cost of living crisis, education standards, investing in the main street and Brexit?
What impact did Brexit have on Wigan?
Nearly two-thirds of my colleagues from Wigans voted to leave the European Union, and up to half supported the Brexit party in the 2019 EU elections, leaving Labor second.
What impact did all this have on the city?
I want to know more and over the next week hope to get under the skin of people I used to know well.
Lisa Nandy tells me that The Brick is Wigan’s food bank, handing out “cold water boxes” because some of those who rely on their kindness can’t afford electricity to cook.
Meanwhile, a recent report on the state of aging says that the poverty of retirees is growing, and the section of retirees of the union Unison is concerned about the financial worries faced by Wigan’s seniors.
Back to school
At the other end of the age spectrum, more than 1,700 children in the city were entitled to free school meals during the pandemic. Breakfast clubs are still the staple food in many areas of the city.
I will be broadcasting from my old school where my sister and I were entitled to free school meals when we were young. How is the next generation of youth coping with the cost of living crisis at Beach Hill Primary School?
Wigan has a rich and varied history on Main Street and has been home to some of the most famous brands – to begin with Marks and Spencer.
Michael Marx lived in the city until he founded the store. Pendlebury’s – the largest department store in Wigan, when I was a child, was later transferred to Debenham. Unfortunately, the brand is less successful than M&S, and the name has disappeared from the main street.
I’ll find out what’s out there now and how Wigan Market traders are coping when inflation figures are released on Wednesday. Some economists believe they may be approaching a 40-year high of 8.5% if their predictions are correct.
Uncle Joe’s mint balls
Then Uncle Joe’s mint balls.
Founded in the late 19th century and for decades by Wigan’s success story, the family business has sold sweets around the world and even found itself in a place of honor on the sacred shelves of Harrods.
However, times are tough, production is reduced to three days a week, and the owners tell us that hard times are ahead in business. We’ll go in and see what Uncle Joe expects in the next few months.
However, green shoots appear. Wigan Investment Group is focused on developers who want to invest in the city, who want to work with developers and landowners. What could they have planned and how challenging could these opportunities be in a cost of living crisis?
Wigan Success Stories
Away from the main street Wigan is famous for its celebrities and sports stars.
Rick Astley would never give up the city; Richard Ashcroft of The Verve has bitter sweet memories of life in the suburbs of Appley Bridge, where I lived around the corner from his family home, and actor George Formby could no doubt be found leaning on a lamppost with his ukulele in Wigan in the 1930s. years.
Nobody bows to our athletes. The Wigan Warriors Rugby League team is a powerful force to be reckoned with, and it has always been. My Uncle Bernard was playing for the team when they, like the Titans, were walking on the Wembley turf.
Let’s not forget the athlete Keeley Hodgkinson, who won a silver medal in the 800 m at the 2020 Olympic Games. My sister Jacqueline and I ran for Wigan Harriers when we were much, much younger!
Also a shout out for Wigan Athletic, who dramatically beat Manchester City at Wembley and won the FA Cup in 2013.
But how long will the Wiganers be able to afford a ticket to a football match or a season ticket to the arena to sing along with Rick Astley?
I am certainly sure that living conditions have not fallen to those documented by Orwell in his 1937 work The Road to Wigan Pier, where he highlighted the desperate problems faced by the working class in Lancashire in the industrial north of England before World War II .
And make no mistake, Wigan has a rich area with houses that boast tennis courts and manicured lawns, whose house prices start at a million pounds.
But how does the vast majority of Wigan residents feel about the next six months when the Bank of England warns that a recession is looming because of the cost of living crisis.
We will head to the manor where I grew up; a school that taught me strong values - and my desk twelve times – and a working man’s club for half a pint of local and to measure the temperature of the part of the northwest that proved to be a leader for the country’s mood.
See you today from 7 am? Hope so.