As a kid I grew up in the northern England town of Rochdale in the 1960s and early 70s. It is a place of fond and not so fond memories: a massive extended, loving and often eccentric, family on tap, unique northern humour, seemingly endless rounds of Christmas and other parties with mounds of roast beef, onions and beetroots picked in malt vinegar, and cholesterol loaded pies and cakes.
Meanwhile, a town with a proud history of socially conscious movements including the Rochdale Pioneers that was the basis of the global Co-operative movement, an impressive town hall and Medieval church in the centre where my sister Gilly was married, quick access to the stupendous nature and wilderness of its ever brooding moorlands and a present set against the boot in the belly of skin heads, the racism against the Asian incomers, the ever-present grinding drizzle, the rotting mills and chimneys and a future of slipping-away, terminal, post-industrial decline.
In 2019, I had the fascination of visiting Weisswasser, a city in the former Eastern Germany that was had been at the centre of a massive strip coal mining operation under the Communists. It had also been part of the Bauhaus story.
Weisswasser was where the world-famous glass was made and my friend Bernadette was in an arts project to mark the Bahaus Jubilee.
Unlike Rochdale, where the town council continues to run the buses and keep the lights on, has tried to attract visitors by opening up the river and erected a statute to its once world-famous daughter—the second world singer and film idol Gracie Fields–the Soviets basically blew up much of Weisswasser and quite literally down-sized the place.
It is a radical solution and not one that most people might consider to be the best in inspiring town planning.
But it got me thinking that if you can’t resuscitate a place to its former glory, why pretend and why waste money trying to achieve the impossible.
‘There’s nothing happening, but the parking’s free”.
Instead, perhaps the best solution for Rochdale and countless post-industrial towns across the UK and elsewhere, could be a bit of brutal downsizing. Return them to what they were before the steam engine came, while keeping the fine buildings intact.
‘Nobody is going to do anything about it. A mercy killings best…wrap up the fine old buildings, and level the rest”.