Is the Black Country a good place to live? We went out to ask residents

The Black Country, is it a good place to live?

WOLVERHAMPTON  COPYRIGHT TIM STURGESS EXPRESS AND  STAR...... 27/06/2022   FOR MARK ANDREWS Vox pop of traders and customers regarding the Express & Star Black Country census, ie how they feel about the Black Country. Pictured, Sam and Sue Vickers....
WOLVERHAMPTON COPYRIGHT TIM STURGESS EXPRESS AND STAR...... 27/06/2022 FOR MARK ANDREWS Vox pop of traders and customers regarding the Express & Star Black Country census, ie how they feel about the Black Country. Pictured, Sam and Sue Vickers....

We asked traders and shoppers at Bilston Market about the Black Country’s pros and cons as we publish the results of our Great Black Country Survey.

"I would rather be in Cornwall on a day like this," quips Mike Eaton, standing behind his clothes stall on Bilston Market on a sunny afternoon.

Mike lives in Tividale, and works the markets of Bilston, Dudley, Blackheath and Willenhall. He's even wearing a flat cap. You don't get much more Black Country than Mike.

"The real Black Country hasn't really existed since they brought in the smokeless fuel in the 60s," he says. "It was called the Black Country for a reason."

Bilston Market trader Mike Eaton, from Tividale

The 53-year-old is proud to say he's from the Black Country, but doesn't believe it really exists in the way that previous generations would recognise.

"It hasn't really existed since all the big factories closed down," he says.

"You used to see all the smoke in Cradley, the steelworks next to the houses.

"In Bilston you used to have Stewart & Lloyd and Sankey's.

"Now there's nothing really left apart from the regional accent."

Returning to the subject of whether the grass is greener elsewhere, he says many of his friends did actually make the move to Cornwall – only to return after two or three years.

"They found it was great when the weather's like this, but not so good in the winter," he says. "There's not much work around down there, and it can get very cliquey."

He thinks the Black Country is not a bad place to live, but thinks the area has been starved of investment too long, and what money has been spent has been wasted.

"They wasted all the money on that," he says, pointing to a glass canopy covering part of the market. "That was European money, but what difference has it made?

"They spent £7 million on Dudley market place, and it doesn't seem to have made much difference," he adds.

"Liverpool and Manchester gets lots of money, but the Midlands doesn't get much. We are getting HS2, but I'll be dead by the time it's finished."

Janet Smith, from Bloxwich, is proud to be from the Black Country

Shopper Janet Smith, 69, from Bloxwich, believes the Black Country is a good place to live.

"It's all I have ever really known," she says. "It's not bad, there's a bit of crime about, but you get that everywhere.

"When I was young, we never locked the doors, but nowadays I have to lock the door, " she says.

Over on the jewellery stall, Peter Hill and Bob Brown also see crime as a problem.

Bilston Market trader Bob Brown

"A lot of people have had their houses broken into," says Peter, who is 74.

"When we had the old police station, you used to be able to go down there, and they would send somebody out from there.

"Now we've got this new police station, that cost about £7 million, yet if something happens they now send somebody over from Wednesfield, and by the time they've got here it's all over."

On the whole, he thinks the Black Country is a good place to live, but like many, says things aren't what they used to be.

"It's quite good, I like living around here, the people are friendly," says Peter.

Peter Hill, 74, from Bilston, says crime is a concern

"But there aren't the jobs any more." He says he and several members of his family worked at the Beldray works in Bilston, making ladders and cleaning products, but those days are now gone.

Bob, who is 63, says trade isn't what it used to be.

"A lot of the shops on the high street have shut," he says.

Ammo Khan, 38, sells bags and leather goods on the market.

He says the work ethic that characterised his parents' generation is not shared by the young.

"The young ones don't want to graft like the older generation did," he says.

"My dad came here in the 60s, and worked in the Dudley Port steelworks for 35 years, but the younger generation don't know anything about that. I know because I remember my mum taking my dad's sandwiches for him in the factory.

"It was hard work, but the money was good.

"I have been working on the market since I was a kid, and I also have another job. That is what the kids today lack."

Sam Vickers, 68, moved to Dudley from Telford 35 years ago, when he married his wife Sue, 69.

Traders and customers at Bilston Market give their views on the Black Country

Now living in Netherton, he says he prefers the Black Country on the whole, but says it did take a bit of getting used to.

"The people are more friendly over here," he says. While the Black Country has seen its share of industrial decline over the past half century, Sam says that is not unique to the area.

"I started work at GKN at Hadley, in Telford, in 1969, they said it was a job for life," he says.

"But they cut the tool room from 300 to 100, and you needed to have worked their for 20 years to be safe, but I had only done 11."

Sue, Black Country born and bred, says the area has much to be proud of, but people often don't realise how much it has to offer.

"We have got Dudley Zoo, we've got the museum, and there is Lodge Farm reservoir where you can do boating, diving, water-skiing and windsurfing," she says.

"You never really appreciate what you have got until you go somewhere else."

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