Like most towns and villages in the Pennines, Saddleworth was built around a flourishing textiles industry. After the decline of this in the 30’s only a handful of the mills remain functioning. The rest converted into flats or offices, the names the only hint of an age in which this area was the heart of the textile world.
Up the road from Brenda’s lies Delph, home to two of these working mills; R. Gledhill LTD and Mallalieus. The roar from the former rumbles through the village, A loan employee sits at the back reading the local newspaper. Farmland lines one side of the valley, a housing estate the other. Small cobbled streets pushing their way between leaning houses. Bookshelves and honesty boxes blocking pavements.
Joan has lived on the Carrcote estate ever since she moved to Delph as a child. Since retiring 5 years ago she explains that most of her friends and family have moved away. “Communities are dying everywhere. It’s ever since they sold the social housing off.” She cites this shortage in affordable housing as one reason her friends and family no longer live nearby.
She sounds a bit tired of it all and tells us that many young people don’t have a reason to stay in the area as they get older. “My son lives in London and has everything within ten minutes of him. There’s only a pub here.” This lack of prospects and entertainment for the younger generation are easily visible on the streets of Saddleworth. Youth seems like a rarity here, something that hides indoors and leaves at the first opportunity. It’s easy to understand when the promise of a career lies elsewhere and all Saddleworth offers is isolation.
This isolation is something that many of Delph’s pensioners have known all their lives. Mike has lived all over Saddleworth in his 67 years here. He even had a stint living over the border in Lancashire, something he puts down to ‘brief madness’. He claims the opportunity to leave Saddleworth used to be for the select few who attended university, “I guess I was too scared to move away. It just wasn’t the done thing then.” Regret hangs in the air for a moment, only to escape as Mike moves the subject on, “I wouldn’t live anywhere else though, it’s home.”
The world might seem big and scary to Joan and Mike now but it’s only set to get larger. ‘Devolution’ is slowly becoming a reality. One in which Manchester acts as the primary case study. As the local MP Debbie Abrahams put it on Yorkshire Day, “the more devolution continues the more Yorkshire and Lancashire will have to work together.”
For Saddleworth’s young this offers the long-needed promise of local careers but also requires a serious improvement in transport links. The Transpennine line is a key component of George Osborne’s ‘northern powerhouse’ plans. A route he admitted they need to be ‘much more ambitious’ with. At present the trains to Manchester and Leeds only stop in Saddleworth once an hour. There’s also a real need for affordable housing, something that seems as rare as the trains. With an average house in Saddleworth costing above £200k there’s not much hope for the first time buyer.
There has been vague promises to ‘rebalance the country’s economy and establish the North as a global powerhouse’ as well as talk of unifying and harnessing ‘the people power of our city regions’. This rhetoric only maintains the idea of the North as a separate entity. A region somehow not part of the wider national economy or vision.
For the older population it appears to be a young persons game. The plans remain focused on private sector investment and utilising the skills of the regions youth. There’s not much mention of how this affects those outside cities, let alone those past working age.
Meanwhile in Saddleworth, like much of Yorkshire, concepts of community, identity and belonging seem like relics of a pre-Thatcherite era. There’s no quick fix to problems of loneliness or isolation. De-centralised government and local investment may never be able to solve them. At the same time communities alone can’t create a sense of belonging or pride out of thin-air. The true solution probably lies somewhere between the two camps.