Young people should get to know why it's far from grim up North - Christa Ackroyd
Eminent professors and opposition politicians say it’s all very worrying. Myself I am less concerned that in the next few years we will see a mass exodus of young people fleeing God’s Own County seeking their future elsewhere. Because it was ever thus.
When my youngest daughter was 14 she announced at the dinner table she was leaving. Not right there and then you understand, but the gist of it was that when she was old enough she was getting out. London was where it was at. Yorkshire had nothing for her. She was off.
At the same age my eldest daughter was such a home bird that we received a phone call from good friends where she was staying the night with her bestie in the summer holidays to say she was so home sick could we pick her up. She was actually staying in the house next door and if she looked out of her bedroom window she could see her own.
Fast forward 30 years and she now lives thousands of miles away in Australia where she has trained to be a geography teacher and made a good life, although she still wants to come home because she will always will. And her younger sister, the one who was going to get out as soon as she could?
Well she lives a few miles up the road, chose Manchester as a university because she could travel there every day and was headhunted by a global technology company which although based in the States, has its headquarters in London, for whom she worked for more than a decade while still living in Yorkshire.
And so I do not worry about the news that 90 per cent of 16 to 18-year-olds surveyed by the Social Mobility Unit say they will need to move from Yorkshire if they are to succeed. It won’t happen and they will succeed. And what’s more that kind of clap trap has been going on for decades.
Firstly let me say the politicians have a lot to answer with their talk of levelling up and North South divide. Not that it’s not true. Not that they and the mainstream media are so London-centric our young people can be forgiven for thinking that life North of Watford is going to be a struggle.
But it takes more than a high speed rail link to put things right. It takes not only investment but a belief that wherever you live, wherever you come from, cream rises, talent emerges and lives are made. What’s more it’s a pretty good life, set in the best part of the world, with vibrant cities and wide open spaces which are second to none. But then our young people have been told time and time again it’s grim up North. Far from it. It’s blooming marvellous.
This week four women from Bradford came together to plan a new podcast to tackle that very subject, that young people and others who should know better need to believe in themselves and in the place which bred them and if they do they can’t go far wrong.
The women range from 40-something to 60-something from very different backgrounds and chose very different careers. We have one thing in common. We were all were raised in that much maligned city of Bradford and we all had the same story to share that that it was others who told us as we were starting out we would have to move if we wanted to make it.
I was a journalist who worked on telly for 20 years was the first woman to run a radio newsroom and wrote for a national newspaper for a decade even though the editor’s secretary when arranging a meeting of columnists was aghast I would be travelling from Yorkshire, of all places. Another is one of this country’s most successful family lawyers with a practice in London but with her heart and her headquarters in Bradford advising a largely female Asian clientele of their rights.
The third is a trained GP and hospital doctor who was told not to squander her medical degree by going back home but to choose a hospital down South. She didn’t. And last but not least is a woman who along with her husband has just sold an extremely successful social care company and now travels the length and breadth of Britain advising others on how to offer support outside the care home system. You could say we have all done more than OK for ourselves.
What we all agree on is simple. Wanting to leave home, to strike out on our own is a right of passage for all young people. We all felt it back then and it’s understandable why young people believe it to be true now.
Being told that there are more opportunities down South and you can’t make it up North is as old as the tale of Dick Whittington and largely as a result of every single part of our lives being run and reported on by London-based politicians and London-based newspapers (which incidentally is why I am so proud to write for this one ).
But our young people won’t all flee because as the song says "if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere”.
Wanting to fly the nest is a tale as old as time. It is a rite of passage. Just as when you are 16 teachers seemed ancient at 30-something and parents knew nothing and didn’t understand. News as it happened had little bearing on our lives.
Who cared about the cost of energy when your mum told you to close the door to keep the heat in or turn off the big light lest the room looked like Blackpool illuminations. We weren’t paying the bills.
I often quote my great friend and dearly missed Richard Whiteley when he said the most asked question ever aimed at him after the one about the ferret was why didn’t you go to London?
After rather flippantly and modestly replying “because no one ever asked me” which I know isn’t true, he answered “Why should I? The greatest honour is broadcasting from and to the people I grew up with”. Which is exactly how I feel.
Of course some young people will leave. And others will arrive and stay. That’s life. And it’s worth pointing out that Leeds is one of the cities where young people decide to make their base permanently after arriving at university there. Almost 40 per cent of them. So we must be doing something right.
Next week I am going to that there London to record a television programme, though with the burgeoning media companies in Yorkshire and Manchester there is no need to travel that far any more. If there ever was.
Like Dick Whittington many have discovered the streets there are not paved with gold. And so I would say to any young person worried they need to leave to secure their future, turn again. And make life your own wherever you choose to. But remember it’s far from grim up North. Life as they say is what you make it. Not where.