The main shopping street in Rochdale is crowded with charity stores, pawn brokers, pound shops and “cash converters”.
The local McDonald’s closed at the end of last year.
Rochdale is the tenth most deprived borough in England. Unemployment has doubled here in the past four years. Youth unemployment stands at 10.7 percent.
It is a town with a rich industrial past, and the birthplace of the cooperative movement. Its huge Gothic town hall points to the wealth of its heyday.
“We’re now a manufacturing town without any manufacturing.” said Andy Kelly, who is involved in Back Door Music, a popular project for young people in Rochdale. It shares its premises, a converted Victorian swimming baths, with a circus group.
“There is nothing for young people to do in town. At the project they can play and listen to music and interact with people they wouldn’t ordinarily meet.”
The recent case of nine Muslim men convicted of sexual exploitation in Rochdale has dominated the headlines. Local people are worried that racists and fascists are trying to use the situation to stir up divisions.
The private care homes that were caring for the young women are also under the spotlight. One council worker said, “The Green Corns company that ran the home one of the victims lived in charged £250,000 a year for her care. Yet the workers there are sometimes earning under £10 an hour.
“Where is the rest of that money going to? Someone at the top is living in a mansion.”
There is a sense of pride in the town despite its many social problems. Labour councillor Terry Linden took part in last week’s protest against the EDL (see story below).
He told Socialist Worker, “We can’t let the fascists destroy the community cohesion we have built up here over so many years.”
Mohamed is unemployed. He has both Asian and white friends but is worried about the impact the case has had.
“I have suffered racism,” he said. “Out clubbing I’ve had ‘paki’ shouted at me, but it’s not common. Now I worry people will look at me as a Muslim man and be suspicious. The EDL just wants to cause havoc.”
Mark said, “I went to an all white Catholic school. Now my kids go to a mixed school. Rochdale is very mixed, not just the Asian community. We have people from all over Europe and Ireland.”
But the danger of polarisation has not gone away. One Muslim resident of the ward where several of the abusers were based described the pressure on all Muslims to accept responsibility for the crimes of nine men.
“We cannot all be blamed because we are Muslim,” he said, “This was a terrible crime but it has nothing to do with race or religion.”