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How community spirit lives on in ex-mining community of Chasetown

By Mark Andrews | Burntwood | Features | Published:

Mark Andrews visits Chasetown in the latest of our Down Your Way features.

High Street, Chasetown

Helen Lewis motions towards her relatives, sat around the counter of the Personal Touch jewellery shop she keeps with husband Kev.

"Our shop is like a community centre, people are always dropping in for a chat," she jokes.

Chasetown, a former mining community between Cannock and Lichfield, might not be as close knit as it was when all its inhabitants worked in the pits, but there is still a strong sense of community.

Helen and Kev Lewis keep Personal Touch jewellers

The town briefly hit the national headlines in 2008 when its football team, managed by the irrepressible Charlie Blakemore, reached the third round of the FA Cup. For a time, comedy legend Frank Carson even joined the club's board of directors.

But while its moment of fame may have been fleeting, the enduring appeal of this warm and welcoming town has not dimmed for those who have lived their lives there.

"I wouldn't want to live anywhere else," says Claire Pointon, who keeps Claire's Barber Shop in High Street. The 52-year-old jokes that some people probably regard her as a newcomer, having first moved to the area when she was five years old.

"The people are very friendly, you have got lots of open space, there is a good road system so you can get around for most places," she says.

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Claire Pointon, who keeps Claire's Barber Shop

Claire, who has kept her shop for 16 years, having previously worked in Lichfield, says the area has changed a lot since she was a child.

"We have got new houses all over the place, there are housing estates all over the place," she says.

But she says crime problems have grown since the police station closed in 2015.

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"A little bit of crime has started," she says.

"There have been people breaking into vans, stealing cars, and somebody had their moped taken off them.

"Not that long ago they spent a fortune building a new police station, and then within 10 years it closed.

"It's annoying because they sold it at a loss, and as taxpayers we are the people who are paying for it. It's no surprise when the police are going to take 20 minutes to get to where we are."

Joy Hill, 54, is also sadly familiar with problems of crime, having suffered a break-in at the Sanders Cycles shop her family has kept since 1880.

"There seem to be a lot of burglaries at the moment," she says.

Joy Hill of Sanders Cycles – 'we need a bank'

Joy, who has lived in Chasetown all her life, says it is still a good place to live, but believes that some of the old character has been lost.

"We're close to Chasewater and Cannock Chase, and we're also near enough to a major city if you need to go there," she says.

"It's better than inner-city life, and the people are nice."

But she says the area is not as close-knit as it used to be.

"It used to be a traditional high street, with lots of shops, but a lot of those have gone," says Joy.

"We also need a bank. I know people do online banking these days, but if I have a bill to pay I have got to go to Lichfield, and that's an hour out of my day."

Customer Mick Arblaster, 76, reckons Sanders bike shop is the best thing in Chasetown.

"I've lived here for 45 years, it's much more built up now," he says.

Mick Arblaster is concerned about crime

"They're building houses everywhere, but there's not enough facilities to provide for the local people.

Like many of the other residents, he says the lack of police presence has had a major impact.

"Drug dealing goes on in the park, but there's no police to stop it," he says.

Tim Jones has kept the Uxbridge Arms on the corner of Church Street for 38 years.

He says Chasetown is a good place to live and work, but like most towns and villages in the country, the pub trade has suffered over the past decade.

"We have lost five pubs and one working-men's club close in the last six or seven years," he says.

Tim Jones, landlord of the Uxbridge Arms

"We do all right at weekends, but it can be very quiet in the day.

"We used to have a paint-spraying shop and a garage across the road, we used to get the mechanics coming in for a shandy and a sandwich at lunchtime, but not any more.

"A lot of bosses don't like their workers coming in the pub at lunchtimes for health and safety reasons, and that's quite understandable.

"That's why some of the pubs don't bother opening at lunchtime. I have thought about it, but I don't like the idea of throwing in the towel. Besides, there's always jobs I can be doing, like washing glasses."

High Street, Chasetown –the former mining community has seen many changes

He feels that the area has suffered from a lack of investment in recent years, and often gets overlooked compared to Lichfield city centre.

"We are part of Lichfield now, but no money get spent in Chasetown, it all goes in Lichfield," he says.

"The bowling green across the road is misused by kids on bikes, we've asked Lichfield Council to try to get it fenced off, but they would rather spend money on putting new cobblestones in Lichfield high street.

"Public transport had been cut back to a bare minimum, the high street has declined over the years," he adds.

"We used to have two butchers' shops in the High Street, fresh fruit shops, clothes shops, but I suppose that is the same for every small town."

Warren Hopley, 53, is enjoying over a pint with his son Alex. Like Tim, he has lived in the area all his life, and thinks it is generally a good community.

Warren Hopley and son Alex enjoying a pint in the Uxbridge Arms

He says the nature of the area has changed a lot, with many industrial units having sprung up over the past few decades.

"There used to be a lot more open space, a lot more green areas," says the electrical engineer.

Warren is concerned about the number of heavy goods vehicles travelling through the centre of Chasetown.

"We've got this narrow little high street, and you still get 44-tonners trying to negotiate the area," he says, adding that Chasetown also needs more activities for young people.

"We've got the leisure centre, but apart from that there isn't a great deal for youngsters to do in the area."

At the Flowers By Design florist's shop in High Street, you can barely move for colourful floral displays awaiting their lucky recipients. Behind the counter is 50-year-old Nicky Roberts, assisted by her gregarious bull mastiff Bliss.

She is fond of Chasetown, but like many of the other traders, she says the centre isn't what it used to be.

"It's got a nice little community spirit, but obviously there's been a drop in the number of traders about," says Nicky.

"This used to be a really busy high street with lots of shops, but they have disappeared over time.

"This Brexit malarkey has had an effect, people won't spend."

But back at Personal Touch jewellery Helen Lewis believes there are signs of a revival.

"I think it's going back to how it once was," she says.

"It used to be really busy, it was a mining community, and after the mines went there have bee fewer and fewer shops on the High Street," she says.

"It's different, there used to be lots of pubs for the miners.

"But the community feel seems to be coming back to how it used to be. Lots of people have lived here for a long time."

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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