OPINION - Here’s to the next 25 years

Charles Graham

Charles Graham

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AT 8am on January 29 1990 I arrived for my first day’s work at the Wigan Evening Post.

Not for one moment did I imagine then that I would still be here a quarter of a century later.

In fact a couple of days in I was wondering whether I would last the week, so many cock-ups had I made (including getting lost on the way to the office and mistyping St Jude’s Church as St Judas’s!)

Anyway here I am, still ploughing my journalistic furrow and taking a moment to reflect about how the place I came to love and make my family home has changed...or not as the case may be.

I parachuted in from over the Pennines that weekend to find a Wigan very much re-inventing itself after the traumatic collapse of its lifeblood mining industry. Only Parkside, just over the Wigan-Newton boundary, was still clinging vainly on. Margaret Thatcher was still in Number 10 and the main topic of conversation at a very well-behaved Wigan town hall (how times change!) was massive cuts in the face of threatened poll tax capping (maybe times haven’t changed that much after all).

The finishing touches were being put to the new-fangled Galleries shopping centre (now about to undergo a major overhaul because half of it is woefully under-used) and I was given a bird’s eye view of it from our second floor Makinson Arcade office window as tempting smells of hot pies wafted up the stairwell from Hampsons bakery beneath.

In the local news was a campaign for a new concert hall, given that the previous best one – the Queen’s Hall on Market Street – had a couple of years earlier been largely flattened for the bus station. Being a performing arts sort of bloke, I adopted that crusade with relish. Who would have thought our best chance of a replacement – a gigantic church venue on Pottery Road – would still be on the drawing board 25 years later?

But in those days Wigan was famous for two things: its all conquering rugby team, complete with Mssrs Edwards, Clarke and Hanley, and its Pier visitor attraction which was knocking every other North West tourist spot bar Blackpool pleasure beach into a cocked hat.

The football team in those days was scraping a living in the lower divisions at the tatty Springfield Park, its glory days lying many years ahead yet, although one can’t help fearing at present whether events are almost coming full circle as far as team fortunes are concerned.

Some of the town centre didn’t look much different from today, but it was for the most part rougher around the edges. Despite the later loss of the Ritz cinema, I am sure most of you will agree that the Grand Arcade is far smarter than Station Road was, for instance; Robin Park too.

As a junior reporter I was sent out on all manner of expeditions, meeting everyone from Tony Blair to Mr Blobby, going under cover to see what it was like begging on the streets and dispatched in search of the Platt Bridge puma. OK it was in Abram but that wasn’t alliterative for the headline, although there were genuine concerns that a big cat was savaging livestock and wildlife.

There were things that might have been too. I remember sitting in the Charles Dickens on Upper Dicconson Street for several hours awaiting the arrival of what his agent called the next big music star. He went by the name of Curtis Rush, but I never got to meet him because he eventually phoned from Rochdale to say his car had broken down. His loss, I’m sure, although I think it was wise of him eventually to revert to his real name of Gary Barlow.

I don’t get out so much these days, chained as I am to a Martland Mill news desk. But I still love working for the local papers.

And while times and landscapes have changed around me, sometimes beyond recognition, one thing hasn’t: the wonderful nature of Wigan folk.

It’s a cheesy old cliche I know, but if folk weren’t so warm and welcoming I doubt very much I would still be calling this marvellous town my home to this day.