Diamonds, fur coats and a food bank... all in Osborne’s backyard
Despite its wealth, the Chancellor’s constituency has been affected by the economic austerity
The Rev Magdalen Smith was not sure whether her parishioners would embrace the idea of a food bank in Wilmslow, the Cheshire town in the Chancellor's constituency which grew famous in better economic times for its footballer’s wives and designer boutiques.
She was worried they might think it was somehow out of place – unnecessary perhaps - within their largely well-heeled community.
“We have a reputation for diamonds and fur coats and yes there is plenty of money which is part of the identity of the place,” she said.
Yet 35 people turned up on the first day Food Friend was held at St Bartholomew’s Church. Eighteen months of austerity later and the monthly drop-in is attended by more than 90 referrals.
“It is a real mixture of people. Some of them have been moved here and are in council accommodation. They may have a few days or longer in which their benefits are being set up and they have nothing – no money for food, electric or anything,” Mrs Smith added. “They are vulnerable, living hand-to-mouth. They are trying to give their children a good upbringing but are struggling,” she said.
A short stroll from the well-appointed vicarage into the town centre and the media image of Wilmslow is soon restored. And here in Mr Osborne’s back yard, it is possible to find evidence of economic healing.
At Simon Dunn Chocolatier, the family run business was gearing up for its busiest time of the year. Celebrity regulars here include Manchester City’s David Silva and United’s Michael Carrick. According to Mr Dunn, who set up his first handmade chocolate shop in 1984 after quitting his job in a sweet factory, business is booming. But he has had to work hard to make it so.
The price of cocoa has gone up and had to be absorbed to keep prices low. “We have changed and adapted through the years and have become as much a coffee shop as we are a chocolatier,” he said. Recent investment has seen the business expanded, new product lines added and franchises set up.
“I have seen the amount of business increase and it has been staggering. The problem has been getting the funding to do that. But we have managed and seen sales double. I can’t wait for the new year,” he added.
Doreen Hutchinson, a retired sales negotiator, was heading determinedly past the jewellers and bespoke kitchen shops towards the Post Office. She felt the Chancellor was on the right track. “We have got to have this before we can get better,” she said.
Mrs Hutchinson admitted that the economic events of the past few years had left her largely unscathed although it had affected her wider family. “I suppose we are quite affluent here and you do get a lot of footballers, its true,” she said.
Retired scrap metal worker Dave Baldwin said not everyone in Wilmslow was a friend of Mr Osborne or relishing the prospect of more years of austerity.
“The working class round here don’t seem to think much of him,” he said. “I’m hoping for a comfortable retirement but I wouldn’t say I was looking forward to it.”
Steve Leyland has run the town centre flower stall for the past 12 years and believes he enjoys a bird’s eye view on the local economy.
“I can’t complain about trade at all because we tend to be a bit cheaper. A bunch of flowers from me is cheaper than a coffee at Starbucks - and I pay taxes,” he said.
“This last month has been the best November we have ever had. It has been fantastic. I think people are looking for something to cheer themselves up,” he added.
Flower seller Sally King believed there was an inevitable cycle at play. “My 80-year-old father always used to say that there is nothing new. When Labour get into power they bankrupt the country. Then the Tories get in and try and clear it up. But this makes them so unpopular they get kicked out. That’s about right,” she said.
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