Hear all about Wigan on the radio

Wigan Pier
Wigan Pier

Wigan will be in the national spotlight tonight as a prestigious radio station airs a documentary exploring the town’s response to hard times.

BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting Going To Town this evening with well-known professor of politics Anand Menon asking if the borough has answers to some of the country’s biggest and most burning problems.

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The programme looks at how towns have been sidelined by cities, how the Brexit referendum threw up huge divisions between large urban centres and smaller post-industrial places and how Wigan has shouldered some of the worst of austerity and the most savage town hall budget cuts.

The documentary, though, will also look at the increased role for community groups in the borough, with producer Meara Sharma visiting to take in landmarks such as Wigan Pier as well as meeting eco project Fur Clemt and Sunshine House in Scholes.

Rather than take a wide-angled look at the issue the whole programme will focus on Wigan to see how one place is responding to the challenges in front of it.

Mr Menon said: “We have belatedly become aware of the potential tensions between north and south, cities and towns, central and local governments.

“By focusing on one place we hoped to get under the skin of these issues.

“We saw the Wigan Deal as an interesting case study for many of the kinds of issues we wanted to explore.

“An example of local people doing things locally to improve a community, which revealed both the gulf between richer and poorer parts of the country and also the steps that can be taken by towns to improve outcomes for their inhabitants.”

The team behind the programme also interviewed local political leaders, civil servants and journalists.

They said some of their initial impressions of the borough had been confounded by looking closely at Wigan, though Mr Menon could not resist jokingly bringing in some cross-Pennine rivalry.

He said: “We found a more complicated and nuanced picture than one might imply from reading headlines.

“Obviously Wigan isn’t as nice as a Yorkshire town, but what we learned helped us to think more critically and deeply about the relationship between central and local governments, between towns and cities, and between councils and inhabitants.”

As well as looking at what Wigan Council and the third sector is doing in the borough, the programme is expected to look at whether towns are distinct places needing a unique approach, something the town’s MP Lisa Nandy has been looking at.

Going to Town is on BBC Radio 4 tonight at 8pm.