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Grimsby: past its glory days but still hoping

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Nelly GTFC
March 14, 2015, 1:12am

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In the first of The Guardians pre-election series, Gaby Hinsliff returns to her home town to gauge the mood, and finds Grimsby making a last stab at reinvention.

Quoted from The Guardian, by Gaby Hinsliff | Posted: 6th March 2015
Everything changes, but nothing changes much. Or it doesn’t in Grimsby, anyway. Stand on the corner by the building where I once worked and the past is right there, crumbling before your eyes.

On one side, abandoned warehouses on the fringes of the old dock, seagulls swooping through gaping roofs. On the other, steel-shuttered empty shops at the top of Freeman Street, once the roaring heart of town: in the 1970s it was payday every day when the fishing boats came in, a pub every few steps and still men queuing out of the doors. But you can dwell here with ghosts or do what I did last week and walk up the road, into Grimsby’s present.

Election 2015: The Guardian poll projection
Read more
On Alexandra Dock, cranes are busy emptying the bellies of ships and the morning’s haul glistens in spring sunshine. Not fish, but new cars – half a million imported here every year, destined for forecourts all over Britain. Squint out to sea meanwhile and you can see what some consider Grimsby’s future; the whirling white blades of offshore windfarms. A fleet of engineers now sails from what was once the world’s largest fishing port, servicing turbines all along this coast. Renewable energy is the latest hope for jobs in a town where hopes get dashed too often.

There are so many towns like this, struggling to weather the global storm; neighbourhoods changing, political allegiances collapsing in ways that will shape the forthcoming general election. Grimsby’s just the one I know.

When I arrived in 1994 to be a cub reporter on the local paper, the town was solidly and seemingly irrevocably Labour. A working man’s town, as my editor said, whose sitting MP Austin Mitchell had even then been around forever. Yet in 2010, the Tory candidate Victoria Ayling came within a hair’s breadth of beating him, thanks partly to working the seat like no Tory had previously bothered to do and partly to parliamentary expenses. (Mitchell repaid over £10,000 erroneously claimed against his mortgage, in a town where you can get a flat for £15,000.)

Now Ayling has defected to Ukip, and Grimsby forms part of an angry eastern seaboard – stretching via Boston and Skegness to Lowestoft and Kent – offering Nigel Farage rich pickings. Forgotten towns, venting their frustration on immigrants and the 21st century in general – or that’s how it looks from outside.

And it’s partly true. I could write about the elderly couple who stop Ayling to complain that Freeman Street is “like Beirut” now, all foreign languages. (I doubt they’ll care about [url=http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/mar/04/nigel-farage-appears-to-dump-cap-on-migrants-with-ethical-policy-pledge]Farage’s rather confused immigration policy[/url] launch this week; they know where Ayling – once filmed saying she would secretly rather “send the lot back” – stands.)

I could write about stories of factories shedding locals and hiring foreigners on lower wages – not all of which are myths, according to the Labour candidate Melanie Onn. I could write about old men drinking on street corners before 10am, and absent buy-to-let landlords snapping up family homes, splitting them up and renting rooms to all comers, letting streets slump into disrepair; about poverty sharpening resentment of anyone seemingly getting something for nothing. None of that’s untrue.

But there are other truths. In a faintly desolate car park east of Freeman Street, a departing stranger rolled his window down and handed me his ticket with free time left on it. “It’ll save you, won’t it?” And it’s that kindness I remember. Back then, my neighbour would send her daughter round with some of whatever she was cooking for dinner because “Mam’s far away”. (Everyone else’s mam lived round the corner.) As a reporter, I was welcome anywhere.

What’s noticeable in the modern shopping mall that effectively took up where Freeman Street left off is that everyone still talks to each other, all the time: beauty counter girls gossiping with customers; young women chatting over pushchairs; men calling across the street. Nobody’s buying much, but they’re not lonely either.

I’m reminded of Saturday nights when everyone knew everyone, a whole town half-drunk and up for it, queuing in the salty wind for the nightclub on Cleethorpes pier. The club’s shut now, although there are grand plans to restore the pier. Restoring everything else is more problematic.

The glory days of the fishing industry weren’t, in truth, so glorious. With the booze came violence, beatings behind closed doors. Older reporters reminisced about covering “proper murders”, not the smack-addicted shoplifters filling my court reports. Fishing work could be precarious too: waiting on the docks each morning, hoping to be picked by skippers – a forerunner of today’s endemic casualised labour.

As Onn says, she can’t remember when unemployment wasn’t an issue. When EU quotas shrank the fishing fleet, Grimsby diversified into food processing, but even in the 90s, those factories were closing. Now it’s chemical plants and oil refineries shedding staff, squeezed by global competition. Jobs have gone but also the comfort of cycling together to the docks at dawn, sharing a production line with people you’ve known forever. And all this started long before the Poles and Latvians arrived, opened delis in empty shops and car washes on wasteland.

Grimsby’s problem isn’t with those who came but, if anything, with the cheap foreign labour that didn’t; invisible competition from lower-waged countries sucking away big employers such as Birds Eye, now making fish fingers in Hungary. Yet what we got was ill-judged rhetoric from Gordon Brown about “British jobs for British workers” – following a strike at the nearby Lindsey oil refinery over the hiring of foreign contractors – which just fuelled a sense that politicians promise things they can’t deliver. Five years on automation, not foreign workers, is now stealing jobs at Lindsey.

Ed Miliband’s relentless talk of bedroom tax and zero-hours contracts – both issues Ukip has adopted here – and a recovery not felt makes sense in Grimsby (or it does if Labour’s priority is holding towns it should never be losing, rather than winning back marginals such as Cleethorpes). And Onn seems a good fit. Born on a Grimsby council estate, she lost the roof over her head at 17 and broke into politics via an office job at Labour headquarters.

She should benefit from fears of this being seen as a racist town if it votes Ukip – somewhere foreign companies wouldn’t invest – when like any port, Grimsby has a tradition of absorbing incomers. Old friends here say that while Polish and local parents don’t mix at the school gates, their kids increasingly do.

So if forced to guess, I’d bet on Grimsby choosing Labour over a fantasy land of excluding foreigners and resurrecting fishing. But the worry is what happens if this last stab at reinvention fails, if the promised jobs don’t materialise soon enough. There’s only so many times hope can wash in and out on the tide before it’s gone for good.

Link >> [url=http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/06/grimsby-glory-days-election]http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/06/grimsby-glory-days-election[/url]

Performance / Top Scorers / Assists / Discipline - Grimsby Town Statistics >> [url]http://www.espn.co.uk/soccer/team/stats/_/id/386[/url]
Form Over Last 10 Games - Grimsby Town >> [url]https://www.footballwebpages.co.uk/grimsby-town/form-guide/ten[/url]
Player Contracts - Grimsby Town >> [url]http://codalmighty.com/site/ca.php?article=4202[/url]
All info, links on football clubs inc Grimsby Town >> [url]https://fanbaselinks.net/[/url]
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March 16, 2015, 6:14pm

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That brought back some memories. Thanks for posting.

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aaron rattray
March 17, 2015, 7:28am
allright viewers?
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How times have changed.

i am a season ticket holder and i always will be one  

"aaron is the next michael barrymore, hes a comedinan"

it is official, i am a comedian

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March 20, 2015, 12:22am
Barley Wine Drinker
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Good article. thanks for posting it Nelly.

Through the door there came familiar laughter,
I saw your face and heard you call my name.
Oh my friend we're older but no wiser,
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same.
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