Chicken, Steel, a Deafening Silence

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Walking back to the station from a short photography job in Wolverhampton at around 5pm, I pass a poultry processing plant on the Wednesfield Road. The door is open and a steady stream of workers can be seen stamping their time cards at the end of a shift and exiting the building via high security turnstiles.

To my vegan eyes it makes for a depressing sight, but the plant is a significant source of employment in a city where other jobs have become hard to come by. Turning off down Sun Street I approach the main station thoroughfare and am struck, as I have been in other British post-industrial cities, by the eerie silence of the city’s central station at rush hour. Wolverhampton, Coventry, Hull. Places which once upon a time would have had bustling train stations and city centres at rush hour, the soundtrack of healthy social and economic activity which has been replaced by the collapse of whole industries, communities, and a deafening silence.

My feet pass over cobblestones and beneath the old railway bridge, and my eyes turn to the historic pub on the corner which once would have been filled with workers from the nearby British Steel site, now abandoned, enjoying a pint after work. Royal Mail vans come and go from the depot, but otherwise there are few signs of life in this corner of Wolverhampton city centre.

There’s so much talk of “levelling up” but I can’t help but feel that what our politicians really need is to spend an afternoon without minders, meetings, or PR photo-shoots in mind, anonymously walking the streets of England’s post-industrial cities and feeling the ghosts of a prosperous past as well as the struggles of the present with every step they take. I’m no Tory but I include politicians of all political colours in this wish as I don’t think any of our parties fully grasp the task at hand. I left Wolverhampton with my head against the train window, looking out at the crumbling factories and abandoned industrial sites that stretch from Wolverhampton to Birmingham, a new season of buddleia rising from the cracks and crevices but offering little in the way of cheer to this corner of the West Midlands.

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