It all started, kind of, in 2007 – when Kirstie and Phil from Location Location Location announced to the whole country that Middlesbrough was the worst place to live in the UK.
They told us that the crime levels are higher, the health is worse and the binge-drinking, drug abuse and smoking are more prominent by far than national averages – all facts that were narrated in a disapproving tone over stock footage of boarded up buildings, crying babies and the obese. Then, only last October, the Boro was announced as the proud winner of ‘worst place to be a girl’ due to it’s shocking levels of teen pregnancy and low academic standards.
So what is it really like growing up in the ‘worst place in Britain’?
The simple fact is that Middlesbrough – like anywhere else in the world – has its pros and cons. Yes, all of the statistics are true, but numerical values don’t take into account the fact that there are plenty of good people in Middlesbrough doing plenty of good work. Take for example the staff of James Cook and North Tees Hospitals (where I was once a temp) who work incredibly hard to provide high levels of care to everyone who comes through the door regardless of who they are and where they came from. James Cook also has wonderful training facilities and specialist units that have saved so many lives across the Tees Valley and beyond.
And how about the Teesside University, which is right now training up future generations of accountants, journalists, engineers and games designers? Or Middlesbrough College? Or the Queens campus of Durham University? The Tees Valley – despite it’s statistically low academic results – always tries hard to offer a range of learning environments for academic or vocational learners. Basically, it’s a town that is really trying to better itself, and to brand it as this industrial wasteland full of nothing but crack addicts and pregnant children undermines every single person in it.
I wouldn’t ever argue that Middlesbrough is the most incredible place to live, and I personally have no plans to move back – but to say that somewhere is ‘the worst’ becomes a form of self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you put down a place the worse it becomes: I saw it in parts of America and I see it in Middlesbrough too. People give up hope on it, they lower their expectations, they disregard any positives and improvements because it doesn’t fit their narrative of the sad industrial town in poverty and decline.
Despite the reputation Middlesbrough has, I’ve never felt unsafe there and I’ve never felt disadvantaged either academically, emotionally or otherwise. Believe it or not, I decide what my life will be like as a ‘girl’ and my fate isn’t necessarily sealed because of the geographic location where I was born. The fact is that a lot needs to change before Middlesbrough makes its way off the ‘worst’ lists; but isn’t it more beneficial to do something about it than just point fingers and criticise? Looking down on towns like Middlesbrough, Rochdale and Blackpool isn’t going to make them any better, and it isn’t going to improve any other towns by making them seem slightly less bad in comparison.
So now I think it’s time to stop naming names, and start realising that Middlesbrough is a real
place full of real
people who – surprisingly – don’t enjoy being sneered at or tarred with the same brush as 377,000 other people who live in the Tees Valley. Yes, we may call Middlesbrough a dump, but it’s our
dump and therefore we are entitled to. I really hope that in 10 years we will look at Middlesbrough the way we look at parts of London: with that endearing feeling of ‘it used to be a bit shit but now it’s turned itself around and it’s incredible cool and popular’. And I wouldn’t put it past us: Middlesbrough is twinned with Dunkirk, and we sure as hell do have some of that fighting spirit.