Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Cod Army fight back

Back in 2014, John Harris wrote a Guardian Long Read about the extent to which my home city Newcastle was suffering from the devastating effects of spending cuts forced on the council by a Tory government zealously pursuing the ideology of austerity. The bleak picture he painted became the setting for Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake two years later.

Six years after Harris' article comes another similar Guardian Long Read, this time about Fleetwood and written by Luke Brown, who spent his formative years there and travelled back to find a town firmly in the grip of deprivation. Like Harris, he conveys the sense of bewilderment, despair and anger at the fact that the town seems to have been abandoned to its fate - though an added element is anti-EU sentiment, given the popular view that Brussels-imposed fishing quotas are responsible for the decline of the industry on which the whole local economy was founded.

As Brown's unflinching report establishes, the problems faced by many of Fleetwood's residents are legion: unemployment, unscrupulous landlords, addiction and poor mental health, to name but a few. And yet (unlike Harris) he manages to end on a positive note, taking hope and heart from the townsfolk's refusal to be passive victims. If no one will help us, they seem to have decided, we'll just have to come together and help ourselves - through community initiatives that seek to prevent social isolation and to give participants a sense of direction and purpose.

Most fascinating (to someone currently reading Grayson Perry's The Descent Of Man, at least) is Brown's observation of "an emotional honesty" among the men he met - a new-found willingness to open up about difficulties with mental health and feel better through the process of sharing and talking about intensely personal experiences. It goes to prove Perry's thesis that the much-needed twenty-first-century make-over of masculinity stands to be of enormous (indeed life-saving) benefit to men as well as women.

No comments: