I’ve lived in the same house, the same town, the same region, for my entire life, and I like to think that (despite not leaving the house very often!) I have a pretty good picture of my hometown.
I live in Middlesbrough, a town on the North East coast of England known for the Transporter Bridge, football, and being the worst place in England to live. Apparently.
An article published a while ago, cited a study claiming Middlesbrough to be the worst place for girls to grow up. Naturally, Boro girls were furious, and upset. But not completely surprised. We’re used to this. Middlesbrough is a main target for national press when talking about the negative aspects of a region. ‘Scroungers’, benefit cheats, teenage mothers… We’re drowning in them. Apparently.
As somebody from the North, I can tell you this: We’re only too aware of how little the government cares about us. If you live up North, particularly as far north as Middlesbrough, the chances are that MPs, government officials, etc. either don’t know your town exists, or firmly believe that we can take more government cuts than the ‘worthy’ places down south such as London and Sussex.
I’m under no illusions about my town. Unemployment is high, as is teenage pregnancy. Prospects and opportunities are harder to come by than in the south. Recent crises such as the closure of SSI, which many people in my region relied upon for employment, have made things even more difficult.
I suggest you go on any job site, and look at the figures for job openings in different regions of the UK. The South East will usually have a couple of hundred, the North East is lucky to have fifty. How can we get jobs, earn good wages, have good lives, if there are no opportunities here for us? The majority of jobs up here are trade, or retail. For people like me, who dream of writing for a living, it’s necessary to move down south. But if you have no money, how can you afford to move down there? This isn’t our fault. This is the result of low funding, or cuts to local council budgets that leave them desperately scrambling to save the most vital services. There are a lot of problems with Middlesbrough, sure. But most of them are not of our own making. We do the best with what we have. We work so hard to find jobs and opportunities, because they’re not as abundant as they are in many other places.
Middlesbrough always gets a bad reputation, when people bother to mention it at all. But it’s a fantastic place to live. You have beaches; the moors nearby; Roseberry Topping; National Trust sites; and so many more. It’s beautiful. It doesn’t deserve the negative reputation. It really doesn’t.
A few weeks ago I discovered a campaign called #ThisNorthernGirlCan, established after the negative, derisory article about Middlesbrough, and I doubt I could ever find the words to explain how brilliant it is to see people taking a stand against the bad press that gets thrown at us on an almost daily basis. I know so many girls from Middlesbrough, and the surrounding areas, who are strong, ambitious, and passionate. Girls who can make such a difference in the world, and who are fighting tooth and nail to get into positions where they can, because at every turn they’re being kicked back: lack of funding, lack of job openings, negative reports about their future prospects and chances of success after growing up in the ‘worst town in England’. Not to mention the other problems that all young people are facing these days due to housing and economic crises.
It’s a tough world for Boro girls, sure, but we aren’t prepared to be put off by those who take things at face value, rather than visiting the town and seeing for themselves just how many incredible girls and women there are here. We’ve been fighting against unfair treatment and negative stereotypes our entire lives, and we’ll keep fighting. Because #ThisNorthernGirlCan do so much more than you think I can.
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Find the campaign on Twitter.