Corby, a steel town in the middle of Northamptonshire, has been getting some attention recently. Graham Williams’ YouTube documentary, ‘corby, welcome to hell‘ is five minutes of despair, while The Guardian ran a two-page spread in which the town is called “Britain’s official ‘yob capital’“, beginning with a splash of local colour – the toxic orange of Irn Bru.
With a metallic tinkle, a discarded can of Irn Bru is rolled by the wind along the pockmarked road outside the Arran community centre. Sheet metal is stapled over the windows of derelict flats nearby.
Corby in Northamptonshire has been branded the yob capital of an increasingly yobbish country.
I grew up there, moving down from Newcastle with my family in 1964 and living there until I went off to university in 1979. I watched the town grow and prosper, as an industrial centre. And I watched the Thatcher government rip its heart out by giving British Steel license to close down the blast furnaces and throw most of the working men out of work.
The town, populated by workers from Glasgow and Coatbridge who had moved south in the 1950’s after Stewarts and Lloyd’s closed down their steelworks in Scotland and offered them jobs and homes and a good life in the Northamptonshire new town, was never a garden city or centre of culture, but while I was at school my sister and I went to see productions of ‘Waiting for Godot’ at the Festival Theatre, attended orchestral concerts, went to the cinema and enjoyed the swimming pool and sports fields.
It was built on a single industry, the steel works having effective veto over the arrival of any other heavy industry in the town, so when they went there was nothing for the highly skilled work force to do, nothing for the dads in almost every house to do. I was lucky – my dad had already left, so our family didn’t rely on the works, and I was off to university as the disaster unfolded. My friends weren’t.
I can’t speak for the town now, and I know that on my last visit there a year or so ago it was depressing to see the empty shops, boarded up houses and lack of hope that came through so clearly. But we should never forget that this was not our fault, that all of us living in Corby were betrayed and ruined by a government that did not care, did not think we mattered, and was willing to let our communities fall apart for the sake of a flawed and ill-considered economic policy.
And nor should we forget that in the ten years since the Tories were kicked out, New Labour has completely failed to right that wrong or improve the lot of my old friends and schoolmates, those who stayed behind when I got out.
PS: someone else who grew up in Corby and got out is Bill Drummond, best known for founding KLF and burning a million pounds. He has his own memories, but I suspect his drinking partners in the Strathcyde Hotel – a bar that has many good memories for me, I have to admit – would have found better ways to dispose of the cash.