Dewsbury to be reborn as child services 'centre of excellence'

Yorkshire town attempts to rebrand itself in wake of Shannon Matthews case

The blustery Yorkshire mill town of Dewsbury has been compared to Beirut, and its recent history as the home of the 7/7 suicide bomber Sidique Khan, a violent gang murder and a bedrock of support for the BNP provoked one newspaper to describe it as "the town that dare not speak its name".

Last year, politicians and columnists vilified the former wool capital (and by association its 54,000 inhabitants) after the disappearance, and subsequent discovery, of the schoolgirl Shannon Matthews, kidnapped by a male relative with the collusion of her mother.

Now the town's elders hope to turn the criticism on its head, by making it an international centre of excellence in child welfare. Phil Wood, an internationally renowned urban strategist and a former resident of Dewsbury, has prepared a report detailing how the town can move on.

"Dewsbury can do something which would become a symbol to the nation that Britain is no longer prepared to be the worst in the industrialised world for child well-being," Mr Wood said.

The town, he concedes, was "grievously stung" by the Matthews case, which became a lightning rod for "a deep and visceral anxiety that Britain, as a whole, is getting seriously out of line in the way it brings up its children".

Local leaders have recently returned from a visit to Gateshead where they learnt more about the Tyneside council's award-winning children's services. They have also studied pioneering Scandinavian systems, which track a child's development throughout its life and are looking to bring in the EU and Unicef to support the project.

The inspiration for this is, perhaps surprisingly, Memphis, the steamy city on the banks of the Mississippi which, like Dewsbury, enjoys a proud industrial heritage based on textiles and the arrival of the railroad – and also knows what it is to be on the receiving end of the outside world's disdain. In 1968, Martin Luther King was gunned down at the Lorraine Hotel and, for more than a decade, Memphis suffered the stigma of his untimely death.

The city began to achieve closure when the motel where King was shot was transformed into the National Civil Rights Museum. Memphis now styles itself as the "city of second chances" a place where failed entrepreneurs are encouraged to start again. Mr Wood called for Dewsbury to "find its own equivalent of the Memphis Museum".

Paul Kane, who heads the town's new regeneration board, is charged with putting the vision into practice and has had some success. Last week the Tory leader, David Cameron, visited Dewsbury Moor, where Shannon Matthews lived, to apologise to residents for claiming the estate was "a place where decency fights a losing battle against degradation and despair". Mr Cameron admitted he had "over-reacted".

Mr Kane believes such comments caused deep and lasting hurt. "A lot of the things people said were degrading of the area. This could have happened anywhere in the UK, but we were seen as a pariah town with all the shame and stigma that is attached to it. People don't want to say they come from Dewsbury, they say they are from Leeds or Huddersfield. This is what we are trying to turn around."

He added: "I am pushing for Dewsbury to be the centre of excellence for child welfare. You can't dwell on the bad things but make sure you turn them around."

Following the Matthews affair, politicians in Dewsbury agreed to put aside their differences and sit on a newly formed Regeneration Board. All parties have agreed to continue working together, whatever the result of next year's election.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk