High fashion replaces 'flat cap' stereotype

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The Independent Online

A sleek, silver-grey Jaguar XJS parks casually on the yellow lines of the streets where 10,000 miners once walked to work.

An elegant woman in her forties, dressed from Milan and shrouded in the fragrance of Paris, strolls into a discreet shop to peruse the expensive haute couture designs from Europe's top fashion designers. A pounds 400 blouse tucked under her arm, she walks back on to the streets of Barnsley - condemned by the Guinness survey as the worst town in Britain to live.

Ignoring the hovering traffic warden she drives away, a defiant personification of the former mining town shrugging off its tag as a blighted outpost with severe economic problems, no job prospects, and poor educational standards.

Edward Worsley, who sells exclusive clothes from the Pollyanna shop, said: "This survey was obviously written by a southerner who couldn't get past our stereotype image.

"I've lived in Sydney, Glasgow and London and I always come back to Barnsley. The people are just so friendly.

"This one shop blows away the myth of Barnsley being all whippets and flat hats. It's the last sort of place southerners would expect to find here.

"There's a 'Welcome to Barnsley' sign as you come into the town from the Pennines. I always mean to take a picture of it against the backdrop of some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. It says it all."

Barnsley attracted pounds 100m investment to counter the closure of eight pits. The Koyo bearings and Mion electronics plants created 700 jobs, with German car parts and textile firms competing for green-field sites.

Researchers found children playing in burnt-out cars in a town with a depressed air and a high crime rate. But a police spokesman said: "By targeting known criminals, Barnsley had a massive 33 per cent reduction in house burglaries. That is a great success many other forces would be proud to claim."

Most of the coal board houses have been sold to housing associations, or bought by developers to renovate and rent.

A woman in her seventies, walking her dog in the nearby run-down former mining village of Grimethorpe, with its boarded-up shops and untidy streets, backed the survey's findings. "They got it just about right. Who would want to live here?"

But Steve Houghton, Barnsley's deputy council leader, said: "The Barnsley this report describes is from the 1930s. We have a seven-minute rush hour, and 70 per cent of the borough is greenery. It is a friendly place with a sense of community, you can't quantify that."