Community rebuilds Grimsby

Prjoect aims to create quality jobs and homes

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A retired businessman who began work as a teacher in the late 1960s on Grimsby’s East Marsh has joined with a local residents group to try to create long-term, well-paid skilled jobs that will revitalise the local economy and community pride.

After a 20 year education career, Peter Rowley established his own manufacturing company, employing 40 people.

Throughout his working life, Rowley, who sold his business seven years ago, warned that a lack of investment in skills training was damaging Britain’s industrial base, leading to a long term decline in manufacturing.

Working-class pride

Now he has linked up with local community group East Marsh United (EMU) to set up a construction training centre, offering apprenticeships to local people who will also refurbish and build much needed housing.

Rowley witnessed the collapse of Grimsby’s fishing industry. Scotsman Bruce Forbes, an East Marsh resident of 42 years, first went to sea in 1970. “The pay rates were never good but jobs were plentiful,” said Forbes. “That helped breed a working-class community that prided itself on being self-sufficient and supportive of each other. The death of the fishing industry created high levels of unemployment, crime, antisocial behaviour and drug use.”

Late last year, Rowley published Class Work, a book examining an economy “on a roller-coaster as seen through the eyes of Grimsby school leavers from the 1970s to the present”. Their life experiences are mirrored in many northern towns.

In the book Rowley interviewed Tony McLernon, a former pupil who became a training provider, lately with North East Lincolnshire Council. McLernon admitted: “Looking at Grimsby today it is hard not to be negative.”

“Out of control”

This downbeat assessment was being mirrored in the summer of 2017 on the boarded-up East Marsh streets, where, according to resident Billy Dasein, a former teacher, things were “out of control. Residents feared leaving their homes because of antisocial behaviour and drug dealing.”

EMU was then formed with the backing of Canon John Ellis, an inspirational character who has run the local Shalom Youth Centre next to his church since 1971.

Ellis outlined his experiences in Chicago at the Lawndale Community Church, where residents transformed their rundown area by purchasing houses and transforming them using construction teams they had trained. Newly moved-in couples completed the indoor decorations.

Dasein, who joined EMU, said: “People want decent homes, employment and interesting things to do. It is hard getting motivated when you see a rundown neighbourhood. We first cleared up the litter. Flower baskets were hung up. Children now help water them. We have developed relationships with the council and police.

“When Peter and Tony joined EMU, which has around 20 activists, our horizons expanded. We are conducting a Community Asset Transfer from the council of all of the abandoned Edwardian Holme Hill school. This will house a construction training centre and multi-skilled apprenticeships can be created, all EMU-employed.”

Rowley, who describes himself as a socialist, added: “We have secured £200k of funding to deliver a community housing project. We will buy two houses and refurbish them using an initial group of six apprentices. We will then leverage in additional funds in order to complete a further 40 houses and complete our recruitment of the full apprenticeship cohort of 18.”

EMU has partnered with Doorstep, a charity that acts as a social and ethical landlord to house young people and deliver support. It has given EMU the maintenance contract on all its East Marsh property portfolio. All the refurbished properties will be rented out. The aim is to provide a real alternative to the absentee landlords who are all too prevalent in the area.

“In addition we are linking with a Hull-based national charity which specialises in providing workspace for young people in business start-ups and routes into self-employment,” said Rowley. “They wish to rent space from us. We have bid for some very significant projects.

“Tony is a lifelong friend whose training sector knowledge is vital. I have always had a big feeling for this area and want to aid what was once a fantastic community. This is a 20-year rebuilding project to provide training that should lead to permanent jobs. In turn this will revitalise the East Marsh.”

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