How Barnsley is becoming a blueprint for post-industrial reinvention - Sir Bob Murray

The demise of the coal-mining industry ripped the heart out of the tight-knit community of Barnsley, but this proud town is fast becoming a blueprint for post-industrial reinvention and its economic regeneration continues at pace.

Barnsley was a nationally significant manufacturing centre in the industrial revolution of the 19th century and there are several reasons why it can – and is – flourishing again. Hard working local people, a proactive council with a supportive leader and MPs, and pioneering development partnerships between the private and public sectors are all combining to give the town real energy and renewed purpose.

Coming from a similar town, I feel I can relate. My father was a miner in the Sunderland coalfields before moving his family to work above ground in the steelworks of Consett in County Durham. I was born and brought up in this industrial landscape in the 1940s and 1950s when the town was struggling to come to terms with the economic realities of post-war Britain.

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It would have been hard for anyone to predict that many years later, I would build the Stadium of Light, Sunderland AFC’s new home, on the reclaimed site of the old Monkwearmouth Colliery in Sunderland– the very last deep coal mine of the County Durham coalfield which closed in 1993. Mining and pride about our industrial heritage has always been in my blood. But so too is regeneration and revival.

The Glassworks at Barnsley Markets. PIC: Jonathan GawthorpeThe Glassworks at Barnsley Markets. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
The Glassworks at Barnsley Markets. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Already, the new Barnsley is taking shape. A shining example of this is the Glassworks, a popular destination that offers visitors shopping, restaurants, artisan shops, a cinema and a bowling alley. Another good example of Barnsley embracing the future is the town’s acclaimed Digital Media Centre.

As the pioneering leader of Barnsley Council Sir Steve Houghton said when he recently launched a business taskforce with Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis: “Barnsley is a great place to invest where businesses, employees and customers support an economy that benefits everyone.”

But the current realities of a cost-of-living crisis and the near-stagnant economy mean that there is still more, much more, to be done. My company Sterling Capitol has a long and successful track record of regeneration and job creation in Yorkshire and we are determined to help, creating jobs overground that were once underground.

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We have already developed the successful Capitol Park Barnsley at Dodworth by Junction 37 of the M1, where a 190,000 sq ft extension was granted planning permission this summer, and we are now working with Strata Homes Ltd to deliver Barnsley West on land allocated in the local plan, which will create much-needed housing and employment opportunities for the town.

When fully occupied, Barnsley West is expected to create and support nearly 2,000 new full-time jobs, with hundreds more created during the construction phase. We have already sustained over 500 jobs at our nearby Capitol Park, including in world-class laboratory services, supporting NHS patients across the North of England.

As someone who spent some of my formative teenage years in the grim grip of unemployment, this makes me incredibly proud. When I turned 16, I expected to automatically get a job in the steelworks with my father. But as a post-war baby boomer there were too many school leavers that year and I was left unemployed. That experience had a profound effect on my life. I turned to education to help me change a future that looked bleak and without any future prospects.

I am a passionate advocate of the power of education to change lives. Coming from a working-class family and leaving school with just one O-level I threw myself back into education after being unemployed for a year.

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Eventually I discovered my passion for business after qualifying as a Chartered Certified Accountant from Leeds Polytechnic – now Leeds Beckett – in 1972.

Through working with organisations such as Ahead Partnership, which facilitates engagement between themselves and high schools, to showcas e job roles and develop employability skills and aspirations of young people, we will be able to support up to 120 training and apprenticeship opportunities for local residents in Barnsley West. In addition, our Barnsley West development will deliver a much-needed new school for 240 pupils.

On top of this, there is another reason to be confident about the economic renaissance of Barnsley. Earlier this year South Yorkshire was named as the UK’s first Investment Zone, which could create 8,000 new jobs with an estimated £1.2bn of funding.

Speaking at the launch of this ground-breaking initiative, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said that the new Investment Zone would help an area "which had traditionally underperformed economically". As far as Barnsley is concerned, I am extremely confident that any “traditional underperformance” is very much in the past.

Sir Bob Murray is chairman of Sterling Capitol.

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