I know some pretty grim towns and cities in the UK. And then there’s Dewsbury, which is somewhat beyond that. It is what those other places will become.
Dewsbury has nothing. It’s about as close to an empty town as is possible to get without it actually being abandoned. In the 19th century it was extremely prosperous from its textile mills, and the architectural heritage of this is very clear to see when visiting: big Portland stone buildings dominate the town, many now empty and boarded up. It doesn’t seem to have many civic amenities left, with the Job Centre being one of the biggest active buildings in the town (door guarded by security).
Most shops are empty. An entire shopping arcade was barricaded off, with pigeon droppings littering the floor – clearly nobody has been in to clean for a very long time. The only businesses that appeared to still be operating were charity shops, vape shops, hair dressers, pound shops, and an awful lot of betting shops: far more than I had seen anywhere else.
Walking along Bradford road towards Batley, most of the old mill buildings that are not boarded up are used as furniture sales rooms, or martial arts gyms: on that stretch of about a mile there must have been at least a dozen of each.
Drugs and homelessness are very obvious, with tents set up in the doorways of shuttered up shops, and a drug dealer on a rail bridge quizzically looking at me, the obvious non-customer who had clearly wandered onto his little bit of turf. Nitrous oxide canisters and the odd needle littered streets.
It doesn’t surprise me in the least that two of the 2005 London bombers and the man who murdered Jo Cox lived around Dewsbury. Without for a second condoning their actions, it isn’t hard to see how a place like Dewsbury has been a breeding ground for extremism of all forms, which easily takes root in those with little to live for: a few days after I visited a far right group called “Yorkshire Patriots” marched through the town.
Looking at photographs of the town centre from the last twenty years show that it has decayed significantly in that time. Information boards (in an empty shop window) boast of a regeneration plan by the local council, but it is quite clearly too little and too late for that, and nobody is interested in investing in the place: many of the “for sale” signs on big empty mill buildings are very old and worn.
There doesn’t seem an obvious solution to the problems faced by Dewsbury and its surrounding areas. Best of luck to them all.
End note: A little known feature of Google Streetview is that you can use it to look at the historical images taken over its years of operation. Travelling through Dewsbury and its archive of Streetview images from the last ten years shows urban decaying happening like a slideshow. I'll just leave you with this shot from the town centre, May 2015: