I’VE spent a lot more time than usual in Dewsbury town centre recently. I walked the place back and forth on Tuesday afternoon, and again – plus every row of the market – on Wednesday.
The results of that very rough-science retail survey will be in next week’s paper. Some things might surprise you, others won’t.
I suspect that for the vast majority of Press readers however that whatever I report will be news – because certainly from the evidence of my eyes, very few of you set foot near the place these days.
That’s not a criticism by the way. It’s an attempt to get a realistic conversation going about what Dewsbury is in 2016 and can be beyond.
Next Friday’s survey might help explain some of my observations today and give Regeneration Board boss Coun Eric Firth something to chew over when he’s next having a pint with pals, voters and family members up Hanging Heaton and Shaw Cross.
Do you do your shopping in the town centre Eric? If so, where exactly? Really, I’d like to know, because we have to talk about who and what the town is for now.
It’s not so long ago that I couldn’t walk across town to the bank, the market, or for a bite of lunch, and know with absolute certainty that I would nod hello to half a dozen or more people, stop and chat with another half dozen, plus exchange embraces with a few close friends and family members.
This week was sobering indeed.
My old school pal Bernard Disken of the eponymous family solicitors waved a greeting as I parked my car on Tuesday. An hour or so later I bumped into my former Dewsbury Celtic teammate Brendan Cummins, eager to tell me about the last familiar face he encountered in the town centre – Henry ‘the Fonz’ Winkler no less (see page 3). And that was that.
But hey, that was Tuesday – traditional half day closing (such as you can tell the difference from Monday and Thursday with a lot of shops).
I was in town a lot longer on Wednesday afternoon and was on the cusp of making a bad decision about the confrontational attitude of one of the Market Place drunks/
addicts who objected to someone walking around taking notes, when I was hailed by one of Thornhill’s greats, John Fox (former stalwart of Batley RL, dad of GB scrum half Deryck).
Phew, a friendly face. At that, thankfully the bare-chested bag of tattooed bones lost interest.
But if you have been in Dewsbury lately and bumped into someone like John and I did, I’ll bet you an autographed pair of Tom Daley’s trunks to my off-white y-fronts, that the conversation goes something like this.
Bob: “Hello Joe, long time no see! How are you pal?”
Joe: “Apart from the arthritis, a triple bypass and two funerals a week, I’m champion Bob, but (looking around) what’s happened to t’town? It’s a sh*t ‘ole!”
At which Bob picks up the thread, off they go and both miss their bus, getting home only for the wife to accuse each of being in the pub – which is a huge ‘as if!’ in Dewsbury of all places.
While John Fox and I played out that Bob/Joe scenario, the centre of Market Place, with its tasteful outdoor furniture, was a haven not for curious town visitors, but complete and utter heroin/alcohol addicted scrotes.
Eric Firth is a genial enough chap. He means well. But if you want to take the ‘Regeneration Chief’ kudos now that someone’s throwing millions at putting an expensive Victorian frieze on a 21st century open sewer Eric, then it’s a two-way job.
So tell me – when did Kirklees lift the ban on Market Place being a booze/drug-head free zone that I seem to recall being imposed? Who decided Dewsbury town centre is a police-free zone? And please don’t refer to some of those lard-arse PCSOs that are infrequently seen waddling around trying to avert their eyes from anything or anyone who looks ‘challenging’. Some wouldn’t be able to run away from bother if they wanted.
I know you want better for Dewsbury, Eric. We all do. But throwing taxpayers’ cash at a cosmetic job without addressing the bigger problems is kidding ourselves.
More next week.
IT SEEMS like an age since I was zipping up, down and around the district, dropping off copies of the very first edition of The Press. March 2002. It was an age, I suppose.
For a laugh I put one of our posters up outside The Reporter building. The company hierarchy had drafted in staff from HQ in Leeds to swamp any of our meagre promotional efforts, although after my poster prank they were also ‘standing guard’ round what is now a sad and empty edifice, the fabulous ‘ship’s prow’ Reporter building.
I remember asking what they were guarding. Did they think I was going to blow the flaming place up? They probably did. Loved a bit of panty-wetting drama, that lot.
As I stood howling laughing at the amateur dramatics, my former colleague Margaret Watson stood in the old newsroom looking at me with such lip-trembling disappointment. How could I betray our beloved Reporter?
How times change Maggie. They care even less about newspapers than they do their loyal staff, or Dewsbury, Batley, Mirfield and Spen, which is saying something. They closed another three just this week.
During the second week of The Press, the then-owners of the Yorkshire Post, Reporter group and fellow titles sold the business to Edinburgh-based Johnston Press for £560 million. I seem to recall it boosted JP’s value to about £2.5 billion, give or take a few quid.
They were cash rich for sure. They spent fortunes trying to hammer us out of business – nothing was too underhand – but we just got on with doing what we do and what, 14 years on, we are still doing.
We’re based in the patch, employ all local people, try to give a fair and affordable service to our customers, and a decent read for folk.
Last weekend the Sunday Times effectively wrote Johnston Press’s obituary.
Despite diluting its shares (I swear they were something daft like £68!) they are now down below 10p. The Sunday Times encouraged everyone left to abandon ship.
JP is crippled by debt and when the business is stripped back, from that £2.5bn it is realistically worth about £500k.
The Reporter Group itself? Now that it’s just one paper with different front and back pages, and stuffed with stories from Wakefield, Harrogate, Huddersfield – wherever the distant staff can trawl free content from – the total circulation is down to about 11,000. I can’t say for sure because they dropped out of industry auditing, things were that bad.
The Press is massively ahead of it in readership.
JP staff will love this – for driving a once-thriving business off a cliff, chief executive Ashley Highfield was given a £645,000 bonus this year, and total package of £1.65m. When the decrepit JP corpse is inevitably broken up and flogged off, he’ll probably get a knighthood to boot.
Good job they can still rely on Kirklees handing the Reporter a subsidy of up to £100,000 a year in statutory advertising that they won’t allow us to tender for...
THORNHILL has produced its share of characters over the years, and some great local sportsmen too. I want to pass on my best wishes today to a bloke who definitely ticks both boxes – Jim Brook.
Jim was a terrific rugby player who was one of the senior players to take me under his wing when I started playing at the old Gate Inn, coached by his older brother Rod and the legendary Allan Wood.
Thornhillers will know Jim better however for being the backbone of Thornhill Cricket Club for many years.
He hasn’t been in the best of health in recent times and is having a ‘bit of a drink’ this Saturday (August 13) at the Flatt Top pub from 2pm.
I know Jim would love to see his former rugby and cricket mates for old time’s sake, and I’m just sorry I’ll be at a family wedding.
Chin up Jim and I’ll be raising a glass for you, pal.