Like many teenagers who grew up in Doncaster in the 90s, I grew up with two dreams – to be the sixth member of the Spice Girls (obvs) and to get the hell out of Donny and try my luck in the big smoke.
Little did I know back then, that 17 years later I would choose to return to live in Doncaster permanently. And that Doncaster would turn out to be the place where I could achieve my life goals of buying my first home, meeting a fella and starting my own business – something that London, Sydney and the USA had not afforded me. This got me thinking about what had changed. Was it me or was it Doncaster? Clearly, I have changed. Who wouldn’t change over a 20 year period. So why don’t people think that Doncaster’s economy can change? This promoted me to write an article on Doncaster’s economic recovery, for the Recovery edition of Doncopolitan Magazine. If you’ve not had chance to pick one up yet here it is…
It can sometimes feel like Doncaster’s town centre has gone from bad to worse. Yet when we look back though a recovery lens, we see that Doncaster has made significant progress through the stages of economic recovery; denial, anger & blame, apathy, acceptance and true acceptance. Let’s look at these stages under themes you might more commonly recognise.
Donny’s a right shit hole
Without a doubt, the economic and social impacts of Britain’s deindustrialisation have been a crippling kick in the bollocks to the people of Doncaster. The message to the miners when they went back to work defeated in 1986 was clear – what you want does not matter. Families were left torn, communities devastated and a forgotten generation of school leavers turned to drugs and crime in the absence of employment.
Fast forward 30 years, Doncaster is still feeling the effects of this industrial hangover. Not because Doncaster is a shit hole. Rather because far too many people who live in Doncaster have shit lives. With anger and blame directed at the government. Apathy has led to an attitude that nothing can be done to fix things.
The result is sad to see, with a town centre to full of betting shops, pawn brokers, pound shops and pubs. Young people off their heads on drugs hanging around shop doorways asking you to ‘spare some change’, prison or early death seemingly their only prospects.
But what of the economic impact on us every day Donny folk? Most alarming is that wages in Doncaster have stagnated whilst inflation is still rising. Meaning people must do more with less. Average salaries in Doncaster are under £19,000, that’s £7,000 less than the national average. The level of people with disabilities and work limiting illness in Doncaster is 23% higher than the national average. Meaning 11% of Doncaster’s population provide unpaid care and our local economy is over dependent on government benefits.
Doncaster is changing
Out of apathy comes an acceptance that things must change. Yet action in this phase is consistent with the past. Many of Doncaster’s earlier attempts at economic recovery sought to replicated previous industry, swapping coal mining for call centres and distribution sheds including the new iPort. Whilst these initiatives bring jobs they do not reinvent the economy. The job’s it brings are in the majority low paid and short lived given tales of demoralising working conditions which lapse people back into apathy.
The final stage in economic recovery is true acceptance. Acknowledging that things will never be the same again but they can be better in different ways. Requiring new ways of thinking and new ways of being.
Doncaster can’t be a thriving industrial hub again, because that’s not the way the world anymore. Over the last year, Doncaster Council’s Chief Executive Jo Miller has driven the need to achieve more inclusive growth where all parts of society share in the benefits of economic growth. Improving employment levels, median (not average) earnings and relative poverty.
The list of achievements and developments as Doncaster dips a toe in this stage of recovery are significant and exciting. Doncaster is home to the fastest growing airport outside of London. Doncaster Royal Infirmary gain Teaching Hospital Status earlier this year. Rossington Hall is set to boast a world class golf course one of only 25 developments in the world. The new National Rail College has just opened, with the ambition to bread a new generation of industry professionals and apprentices. As will the new Institute of Technology.
Three years ago Doncaster was one of the most under privileged regions in the UK. Today a study by Total Money, crowned Doncaster the least stressful city, with highest sense of well-being and highest job growth.
Popping into town you can see the positive spillover effects into the wider community when you look past the pound shops. With entrepreneurial efforts like Scicluna Deli and The Rum Rooms rewarded with flowing trade. Doncaster’s famous Corn Exchange is being restored back to its former glory, with new initiatives to make it a thriving area of town all week long not just on market days. The Mansion House is open to the public again but this time happy to embrace Donny quirks including Steamfunk. There’s a growing and thriving creative scene, not just visible in the new street art that is popping up all round. Today C-Suite homes advertising agencies, Cast Theatre hosts world class productions, whilst Doncaster Little Theatre brings a small community together focused on supporting the Arts.
More importantly people are starting to change their own perceptions of Doncaster. There is no better demonstration of this that the adoption of #Doncasterisgreat.
We’re still years away from full acceptance but for the first-time economic recovery is not only looking possible, the stats are showing it is happening. This is an exciting time no doubt, but the big challenge it where to from where? Doncaster Council have done a cracking job in helping attract investment to create favourable conditions for economic growth. But economic renewal isn’t something the council can do to Doncaster. It’s something to foster hand in hand with the people of Doncaster. There is no better example of this than our neighbours in Hull. In 2014 Hull was like Doncaster, one of the most stagnant areas in the UK. Today it is European City of Culture. Having embraced the arts as an inclusive, participative path to economic and social recovery.
The questions we now need to consider are can the entrepreneurial and creative economy employ enough people or generate enough wealth in Doncaster? Do we focus now switch out focus from big to small business to promote more entrepreneurialism amongst in Donny locals? For the first time, Doncaster has some options, that’s a very good place to be on the recovery curve.
Doncaster is our home, our history and our future. This journey of economic devastation to recovery has changed and shaped all our lives to varying degrees. Mine included, there have of course been ups and down’s because that’s what life is all about. But we must believe things can get better for them to get better.
If you’d like to share your story or any ideas relating to Donconomics please get in touch with the Doncopolitan team on firstname.lastname@example.org