A love letter to the north
Writing by Cleo Nelson
Photography by Paul Crawley
Pink Trolley’s editor Caitlin Klara asked me to write about the move from the North to the South in advance of us both, along with a few other people we know, moving down to London for degree courses, so this is my love letter to the North.
The idea of a North-South divide seems prevalent for people in the UK I think, particularly as it is tied inherently to class. Maybe the idea of such a North vs. South rivalry is unreliable or even non-existent except for when joking about the topic, but in terms of class and wealth it is possibly harder to ignore. This isn’t to say certain places in the South don’t also suffer- certain London boroughs have some of the highest rates of poverty, but the facts speak for themselves about life expectancy, average earnings and government expenditure in northern England. Not to be hyperbolic, as of course this will only be a small amount of people, but it does seem that particularly affluent people from less built up areas in the South view the North as this fabled land of factory and smoke, as a school friend once aptly quipped to me while discussing this topic.
As the North is linked to industry and the industrial revolution, of course it may evoke such mental images, which are still somewhat accurate- driving around some areas of Leeds on a rainy day, it can feel like a grim 80s music video set amongst an industrial landscape. Sometimes I find this depressing, sometimes I love it because it is what I know. The industrial power of northern cities has always been, and should remain, something to be proud of even in these post-industrial cities that have seen high rates of socio-economic decline. I’m used to the car journey back and forth from Leeds to Hull and passing the now quiet docks that used to be such a centre of trade and income for so many families including my own ancestors. Not many people know that the docks made the city a huge target during the blitz; Hull had 95% of its houses damaged or destroyed, making it the most severely bombed British city or town in terms of number of damaged or destroyed buildings, apart from London, during the Second World War. Despite this, the rest of the country had/has little knowledge of it as the media at the time just referred to it as "a North-East town" or "a northern coastal town".
Hidden histories like this one make me feel indignant about the general dismissal of the region and lack of coverage, but it’s also quite compelling to think how many undiscovered stories there might be lurking in and around either side of the pennines. Stories like my grandad’s; whose family of ten hid under the stairs as their house collapsed on top of them. Despite it being my birthplace, I used to get a bit red in the face when talking about my Hull roots as a young kid because of the [‘most crap town’](https://medium.com/@overtake/what-i-learned-growing-up-in-the-crap-town-of-hull-2782fcc41e62#:~:text=Hull was declared the crappest,about its new%2C bastardised title.) point of view. This leads me to the point that holding haughty attitudes about poorer areas, is inherently a classist behaviour to partake in. You can joke about one place being better than another, of course, but it's important to keep in mind how class and wealth influences that, and how classist it is to express these types of ‘jokes’ or opinions in a sneering way, particularly if you come from a more affluent place. Saying this, the rule isn’t the same for the opposite- upper class areas can always be made fun of for being so because they have the privileges that they do.
There was a lot of talk about how the 2019 election voting outcome saw some working-class northern communities (mainly white and rural) turn to nationalistic inclinations and maybe it is because, like many politicians said, they felt ‘left behind’. I’m not going to reinforce this opinion, truly because there’s no way of me knowing whether that is the case or not. However much I disagree with voting in radical right wing parties or turning towards hate and prejudice due to this feeling of being left behind, it could very much be perceived that it is true that the North often has been left behind. It is important though, to not just be resigned to this; while these voting outcomes might be unsurprising, they shouldn’t become understandable. If we think of Liverpool, whose industry suffered under Thatcher and was ‘left to decline’, they never as a city turned to bigotry; case in point, most people know about them not buying The Sun. The correlation between the city’s residents refusing to buy a newspaper of right wing propaganda, and the values that their city associates itself with, is no surprise. Liverpool FC is arguably the most left wing of large football clubs in the UK, and their fans sing of Mo Salah “If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me. If he scores another few, then I’ll be Muslim too. Sitting in the mosque, that’s where I wanna be!” These lyrics, **during a time of heightened islamophobia, can’t help but make you smile. Coming back from the tangent of Liverpool appreciation, I think my point here is that as northerners, we shouldn’t become too resigned about a few northern working class communities turning to right wing nationalism; Liverpool, along with other larger cities, still proves that these attitudes don’t hold too much power up north.
Aside from analysing facts and figures about a North-South divide, culturally I think it’s becoming less relevant, seeing as the biggest divides in the UK are wealth and generational, regardless of geography. Despite this, there are always differences to be celebrated about different places. I love the brutal industrial landscape up north, the history that comes with it, and the sense of community that it represents. I love the national parks, the Dales and the Moors and how close they are to my city. Really I love the fact it’s all home, the place of arguments, birthdays, first kisses and breakups, learning to ride a bike and swimming in the coldest water. The fact the beaches are a bit shit and the water is usually brown because of the sediment stirred up by the amount of shipping moving through it. There’s also a bit of a feeling of being the underdog, of having something to prove, which I actually like too. Celebrating regional differences is fun, and important to some people, but it’s worth remembering to do so within a collective cultural mindset, especially at a time when we are encouraged to fear differences rather than champion them. So I don’t think it’s about North vs South; everyone should be able to feel proud of where they come from, even and especially if that place is dismissed because of its geography, accent, economic status, regional eccentricities, heritage or history.