Beneath a community gala at Bolton Station, strong voices for a "Northern Umbrella"

We were contacted by the Yorkshire regionalist (and train activist/enthusiast) Paul Salveston the other day - with a splendid poster (see left), and news of the kind of place-making event we love to highlight. Blurb below:

Plans for a community gala at Bolton rail station and bus interchange are on track, to use that hackneyed term so beloved of newspaper editors.  The event marks 50 years since the last steam loco left Bolton loco sheds, on Crescent Road, and the continuing importance of public transport in our lives today.

It’s on Saturday June 30th, starting at 10.30 and will feature over 35 stalls from community groups, small businesses, railway societies and arts bodies. There will be live music to suit all tastes and live poetry (some of which may not). But all performers will represent the diversity and vibrancy of Bolton. 

The longer term plan is to create a community hub at the station using the many empty rooms, as well as raised beds for food growing on the platforms.

Bolton Octagon’s Youth Theatre will perform a specially-written short play and there will be face painting and other children’s activities. Bolton School’s Young Company in association with Rough House Theatre will perform during the day.

The gala will take place in and around the railway station and the new bus interchange, where a classic Bolton Corporation double-decker will give short rides around town, departing from Stand G. I’ll be coming to the gala on June 30th

A miniature railway using coal-fired steam locos will operate at the station. Most of the 35 stalls already booked will be on Platforms 4 and 5.

The event is being organised by Bolton Station Community Development Partnership, a not-for-profit body which includes Transport for Greater Manchester, Bolton Library and Museum Service, Octagon Theatre, University of Bolton, Bolton at Home, Bolton School, Network Rail, Northern, Bolton Rail Users’ Group, Community Rail Lancashire and many community groups from in and around Bolton.

“It has been a difficult few weeks for rail users,” said a Partnership spokesperson, with typical Boltonian understatement. “This event re-affirms the continuing importance of railways in our community. We’re marking an event of 50 years ago but looking to the future as well, when electric trains start running from Bolton. Owing to the electrification work taking place, trains won’t be operating through the station on that day so we have the platforms to ourselves!”

Paul is a powerful advocate for regional autonomy and self-determination in the North of England. His January blog of this year was stuffed with plans and proposals.

Here's an extract:

There needs to be a ‘Northern’ dimension to the regionalist debate. At the same time, we can’t ignore the enduring strength of identities for Yorkshire and the North-east, but also Lancashire, Merseyside and Cumbria. To harmonise these regional interests needs a lot of debate and friendly discussion which recognises the following:

  • That ‘The North’ unites the 15.5 people living in its constituent regions and there is a strong community of interest
  • This community of interest has a broad common identity as ‘Northern’ which doesn’t cut across more regional identities of ‘Yorkshire, ‘Lancashire’ etc.
  • Some things – railways, policing, health and some other services are best delivered on a pan-northern basis
 Manifesto  here .

Manifesto here.

So what are the practical implications? This may sound daft but ‘The North’ probably would work best as a nation within a Federal Britain, with constituent regions for the North-east, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Merseyside and Cumbria. We’re a long way off that but even the most unlikely scenario may become possible in the mess that will be post-Brexit Britain.

In the medium term, good luck to the regionalists across the North. But we must look at ways of working together in a ‘Northern Alliance’ which is mutually supportive and agrees on what could work best on a pan-Northern basis.

Take transport as an example. If there were regional assemblies for the five Northern regions they could form a ‘Transport for the North’ board, with seats on a governing body reflecting the population of each constituent. You would have politicians elected for what would be quite large constituencies, as opposed to tiny council wards, who would bring a strategic view to the table. The same could work in policing, health and economic development.

This would be a different model to what the Scots and Welsh have, but it would reflect the very different geographical, political and cultural issues in the North of England. Some of the devolved responsibilities that the Scots and Welsh have should go to the regions but some should be shared in a pan-Northern body. There should be links built with other regionalist groups in England as well as Plaid Cymru and the SNP. In summary then:

  • For 2018, there is a lot of fertile ground for supporters of radical regionalism. The overtly regionalist parties – North-East, Yorkshire and Northern – should continue their work and build support
  • Bodies like the ‘Same Skies Collective’ [whose work we have promoted on A/UK] have room to develop – and why not a ‘Same Skies Lancashire’ equivalent?
  • Work to influence the mainstream parties – particularly Labour but also Greens and Liberal Democrats, is of huge importance. Who will do it?
  • There’s a need to develop ideas and policy – the Hannah Mitchell Foundation needs to clarify where it’s going and grow some radical ideas
  • There is a much wider potential network of third-sector organisations based in the North – the embryonic idea of a ‘Northern Umbrella’ should sprout

More here and watch this space. Also, we must mention one other aspect of Paul's Bolton adventures - his support of the Bolton Worker's Walt Whitman Society, which has been going since 1885. It was started up, writes Paul, by "mainly lower middle-class men who included clerks, a journalist, clergymen and one or two skilled workers. They were not a metropolitan intelligentsia, but neither could they be described as representative of Bolton’s industrial working class." It continues with a yearly celebration in and around the town. 

As we quote Whitman's great lines from Song of Myself nearly daily - "Do I contradict myself?/Very well then I contradict myself/(I am large, I contain multitudes.)" - we are excited to meet up and find out more!