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  Doctor Barbara's Column



My father’s shop has been sold. I didn’t want to lose what might be have once been described as the most demanding member of the family, the constant companion to my dad through 40 years of blood sweat and tears, of hard work from six in the morning to midnight. It gave us all a comfortable life and a future and bred in me the importance and absolute adrenaline or endorphin pleasure that can come from throwing yourself into sheer hard work. The phrase per ardua ad Astra must have had quite an impact on Dad during his time in the Air Force.

But where has Accrington gone; the warm, vibrant and hardworking place that spawned such enterprises as Garth Dawson’s photographers? Where would he have been without the people who enjoyed each other’s company; who worked together and played together? He took photos of their holiday trips, their nights out, their work, their marriages, their processions and religious events, their lives, their loved town, their fun and laughter and the disasters that sometimes hit.

With the closure of the mills and the mines, the supporters of Accrington: the “Captains of industry “moved away taking a vibrant society from Accrington, and lost were the places of work of the thousands whose ancestors had moved to Accrington from all over the surrounding country.

In 1800 Accrington had 3,000 population, smaller than Oswaldtwistle. By 1900, the mills had attracted 30,000 (which is about where it still stands today.)

Thousands had to find alternative work as the mills closed.

Their school children, trained in the new state high schools saw greener fields elsewhere. I wonder how many of those who went off to university ever returned to plough their knowledge back into the area. Accrington lost creativity and boldness, and where has entrepreneurship gone?

What changes have evolved over the past 20 years? My father retired age 70 in 1994 and at that time, partly due to the reputation he had built up, his shop and studio were still blooming. His business included not only a shop but photographic printing and finishing, two developing and printing dark rooms, a drying room (which had a large metal warm drum around which photos flattened their way into drying) and a large room where my mother and giggling friends would sit to finish, spot mount and frame photos.

He downsized, converting the developing, printing and finishing upstairs into flats. Not only was this downsizing a response to his winding down the business, and his retirement as local photographer for the Accrington Observer (although he continued to send them historical photos up to his death), but also computerisation was beginning to make photography less of a trained skill and art. Who nowadays does not record all their own photos or buy cameras on line?

Accrington like many towns has fallen foul of modernisation, computers (on line sales) and the building of supermarkets on town outskirts rather than in the centres. Like the feeling of society as a whole, towns have lost their hearts.

They have turned into a mini America and it doesn’t truly work on the basis of centuries of English life. It has not only destroyed town centres but also the history on which these towns were built, around living working communities and has helped to turn us into a population dependent on the car.

The shops developing these days are those not dependent on computer sales i.e. cafes. The supermarkets are our source of food and they work in liaison with computer sales. Why were the supermarkets or large shopping areas such as Ossy or Boundary mill not built around the market hall, incorporating the old and beautiful architecture of the 1900s with the modern way of shopping? Why are these Corporates not being encouraged to develop in the centres of towns in liaison with the local traders?

And, what of our ageing population? What if the people remaining in Accrington like walking to the small shop? What of social interactions; the mainstay of humanity?

Most human sensitivity is dependent on the five senses. When talking face to face in person, we gather information about the person we are engaging with; appearance, smell, the sound of their voice and perhaps the grasp of their hand as they wish you goodbye. It is a warm and complete feeling which is missing in computer interactions. We can read people, their backgrounds, their present position in life, their upbringing, their social life, in the 60s it may have been: “is there the whiff of Havana?” We look at their clothes, their hair, what they carry, how they walk how they speak: are they Northerners, Southerners, Westerners, or Easterners? And in a rich, all enclosing tapestry, we revel in making decisions, not only about that person but perhaps about what they are selling or telling you. None of this is possible on computers.

We are genetically programmed to love the challenge of person to person interactions.

And was this not what my father recorded in his images of Accrington life?

Are too many of my generation, stuck in a time when life was about humanity, belonging and pulling together; not sitting for hours in a traffic jam or staring at a heartless computer screen?

Why can we not bring it all back, if only for the ageing population?

Some of my relatives, now in their 80s have gone into nursing or residential homes. But where are all their friends? The people, who have stood interacting on Accrington market, the shop owners who knew each other intimately and the relatives who lived in the next street?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful for them to feel they were not alone when they are then bungled off to far reaches of the borough where they know no-one; where the social development of the residents has been markedly different? Is it not a stress on them to expect them to interact with strangers at their ages? No wonder their mental capacities continue to decline in homes.

But staying at home segregated from the world and dependent on services paid by the hour must make them feel sick at heart, unwanted, and not respected for their age. It can lead to their giving up, losing fight and independence. They have much knowledge and experience but much of it exists in areas in no longer use. How many can add up your change without a mobile phone calculator? How many can find their way round without a satnav? And although the youngsters pass the time of day, why is it that although born in the same town no one seems to speak their language or talk about things in their repertoires.

How many elderly want to cope with a supermarket or sit in their car in the traffic to go shopping? Or even worse have food delivered, so the degree of loneliness is intensified giving them no excuse to go out?

How many would like to walk a few steps to a local shop and grumble about the prices or what Mrs X has been up to again, keeping their minds and bodies active?

I would argue that human interaction: chatting, grumbling and arguing as well as laughing, is part of staying mentally fit!

Why can’t the centre of Accrington be converted to accommodate an ageing population to stop this terrible state of affairs for the next generation. The people who were young in Accrington’s heyday? Comfortable flats, as have been developed in many port areas such as Liverpool...local shops, bars. Even educational facilities: perhaps a swimming pool and gym in the market? Exercise and Shopping; all within walking distance.

I have often wondered why people, when they retire, don’t get together to make their own society? We have doctors, lawyers, builders, accountants, shop keepers, computer experts, architects...well everything that the next generation have, but none of them using their skills...all of them slowly forgetting. Why could they not help each other in a community, taking pressure off the “conventional” services such as the NHS?

Could we create the senatorial society, the alternative society? It could be a step down to less demanding work, perhaps; but maintenance of knowledge and skill with a regular and slow continual movement into old age. It would solve the retirement age problem and take those who have learnt their skills differently, years ago, out of the stress of the modern younger work force. (see the O4O project http://www.understandingglasgow.com/asset_based_approaches/older_people_for_older_people_o40)

Age brings knowledge and competence but it is often regarded as old fashioned and so of no use. Yet it served well a previous generation, and so much is lost by denial of our ancestors’ knowledge.

Bring back the centre of Accrington. Give it to those who knew it as great and let them live a social and happy life, not confounded by impersonal sensory deficit of the computer or isolation and dependence.

Bring back the village green, the town centre.

We are constantly reminded that we eat too much and do too little exercise. We sit for long periods at computers or televisions and we drive to the over-stocked supermarkets and gorge on the excess food we have rammed into our baskets.

Let the generation who walked, talked, laughed, ate frugally and worked hard; those recorded in Garth Dawson’s photos have their town centre back.

Barbara Milne 2018



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