Mod­ern life strug­gles told in his­tory project in­spired by Or­well As part of the Road to Wi­gan Pier 2017 project, 80 years on from the pub­li­ca­tion, farmer Mike Gor­ton tells how 27 dairy farms in his lo­cal area, in­clud­ing his own, be­came none

Macclesfield Express - - YOUR VIEWS -

ADAIRY farmer whose busi­ness be­came un­sus­tain­able over milk prices has shared his story for a his­tory project in­spired by Ge­orge Or­well.

In 1937, ‘ The Road to Wi­gan Pier’ an es­say by Ge­orge Or­well – which in­cluded a trip through Mac­cles­field – shocked the coun­try with its depic­tion of poverty in the north.

In the mod­ern re­vis­it­ing of the project, Mac­cles­field farmer Mike Gor­ton, tells how 27 dairy farms in the area be­came none.

On his fa­ther’s 86th birth­day, Mike sold the herd of cows which had been the fam­ily’s liveli­hood for four decades. “It broke his heart,” says Mike. “He didn’t speak to me for three weeks.”

But Mike says car­ry­ing on would have ended in bankruptcy. “Load­ing the lorry up was hor­ren­dous. There were heifers I’d raised since they were calves, and watched them have their own calves. An­i­mals you’ve had to pull out at 4am, tak­ing them from the brink of death into life.”

When Mike’s fam­ily moved to Cheshire from the Mid­lands to be­come ten­ant farm­ers in 1976, his neigh­bours were all farm­ers. Now they are foot­ballers.

“That’s the Rooneys’ land up there,” Mike says, nod­ding to­wards Prest­bury. “The farm worker’s cot­tage next door just sold to a goal­keeper.”

Cheshire might ap­pear to have been one of the more af­flu­ent stops on Or­well’s jour­ney, yet farm­ers here were also weather­ing hard times in the de­pres­sion of the mid1930s, when this farm lay empty.

When he was forced to sell his herd in 2015, Mike was earn­ing 15p a litre for milk it was cost­ing him 25p a litre to pro­duce. Now he looks af­ter cows for a new owner.

He said: “I can no longer call my­self a farmer. I’ve ba­si­cally joined the ser­vice in­dus­try.”

In 2017, in ru­ral Bri­tain, farm­ers are be­ing forced from the pre­cious land that they love.

Mike, who is on the Dairy Board of the Na­tional Farm­ers Union, says: “There used to be 27 work­ing dairy farms in this area, now there are none.

“There’s a whole na­tion of farm­ers in my po­si­tion up and down the coun­try.”

The huge gulf be­tween the haves and have-nots in Mac­cles­field has been high­lighted as part of a his­tory project in­spired by Ge­orge Or­well.

It is just one more worry for farm­ers, who al­ready have the high­est sui­cide rates of any pro­fes­sion, with one farmer a week tak­ing their own life. Iso­la­tion, money wor­ries, gru­elling hours and no hol­i­days can be over­whelm­ing and re­cent stud­ies sug­gest a quar­ter of farm­ers live be­low the poverty line.

Mike said he was moved by mes­sages from the pub­lic af­ter he spoke out about los­ing his herd, beg­ging him to keep go­ing. He says: “It did keep me go­ing, to know that peo­ple do care.

“The worst thing is think­ing that no-one gives a toss. If your self-worth dis­ap­pears, you’re a goner.”

Or­well’s route also takes in the Prince of Wales pub in Mac­cles­field town cen­tre. At 47, land­lord John Hitch­ener is just old enough to have worked in the silk mills that brought the town its pros­per­ity.

He says: “I wish we could have held on to our her­itage as a town.

“There used to be silk, cot­ton. A lot of the men in here will be old enough to re­mem­ber the knockerup­pers who ran round get­ting peo­ple up for work.

“There were houses for work­ers. Now young peo­ple can’t get on the ladder and work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties aren’t there.”

A short walk away, in a gym be­low a bath­room shop, the Mac­cles­field Boys’ Box­ing Club is in full flow.

In Or­well’s day, Mac­cles­field had a proud box­ing record, and for 14 years the club has drawn on that to help tackle so­cial ex­clu­sion.

Here, boys and girls box for £1 a ses­sion.

Head coach Kevin Brad­bury, 49, says: “We’ve had some great wins, but it’s not about that.

“It’s about turn­ing kids’ lives around. You can’t save them all. But you try.”

Co-founder Gary White, 51, says all the kids look for­ward to the an­nual Black­pool trip.

He says: “Last sum­mer, one of the boys saw the sea and said, ‘What’s that?’. He ran right the way down the beach, into the wa­ter. You could see him lick­ing his lips. He’d never tasted salt wa­ter be­fore.”

On nearby Moss Rose es­tate, many of the kids come from fam­i­lies where the maths of daily life doesn’t add up.

“Peo­ple here are stressed and strug­gling,” says Rev Rob War­dle, 59, from the Cre-8 project run by St Barn­abas church. “Par­ents are work­ing longer hours for less, liv­ing with zero hours con­tracts and aus­ter­ity and that im­pacts on their kids. There’s a lot of in-work poverty here, a lot of latchkey kids.

“There are mod­ern day Fa­gins around.

“They use young lads to help with crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, it’s a kind of groom­ing. Young peo­ple are vul­ner­a­ble but don’t al­ways re­alise it.”

“When I fin­ish here, it’ll never be a farm again,” Mike says.

“My kids don’t want to be farm­ers – they’ve seen what we’ve gone through. This will be a house with fields, like most of our neigh­bours.”

His parting words hang in the air with the pollen haze float­ing above his neatly-mown fields.

“We need to re­ally think what we want from our coun­try­side,” he says.

“Lots of big houses, or food pro­duc­tion?

“If the hill-farm­ers go to the wall af­ter Brexit, we’re re­ally fac­ing the end of the coun­try­side as we know it.”

To read more about the project go to mir­ror.co. uk/wigan­pier2017.

If you would like to share ex­pe­ri­ences of liv­ing on a low in­come or strug­gling with wel­fare cuts, con­tact re­albri­tain@ trin­i­tymir­ror.com.

Coach Kevin Brad­bury at Mac­cles­field Boys’ Box­ing Club

Farmer Mike Gor­ton and, be­low, the dairy farm his fam­ily has run for more than 40 years

Ge­orge Or­well’s Road to Wi­gan Pier de­picted poverty in the north in the 1930s

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