Blackpool by-election petition: ‘Here’s what Labour can do for towns like mine’

Over the past decade, residents like me in Blackpool and other seaside towns across the United Kingdom have witnessed significant changes in their communities. The decline of these once-thriving coastal areas has affected residents in their daily lives.

Seaside and coastal towns have historically relied on industries like fishing, shipbuilding, the public sector and tourism to sustain their economies. However, the decline of these traditional industries and austerity have led to economic challenges for residents.

Blackpool needs more job opportunities

Job opportunities have become scarce, and many young people have sought employment elsewhere, leading to a mass exodus of the younger population, whilst importing older residents in their retirement years and those with significant complex issues looking for a new beginning, solely based on a happy childhood memory.

The decline of seaside towns has resulted in a range of social consequences for local residents. As economic prospects dwindle, communities often face higher rates of unemployment, poverty, health inequalities and social exclusion. These issues can have a profound impact on mental health, community cohesion, and overall well-being.

With the decline in tourism and economic activity, the availability of essential services and amenities has also been affected. Local shops, schools, NHS facilities, and recreational spaces may struggle to survive or face cutbacks.

Younger generations feel they need to leave to thrive

The decline of seaside towns has also led to significant demographic changes. As younger generations seek opportunities elsewhere, the population skews towards older residents.

When I organised for Keir Starmer to visit my old sixth form in Blackpool back in 2021, he asked the group of students “Who loves Blackpool” and they all raised their hands. When he then asked, “Who thinks they’ll have to leave to get the job they want”, they all raised their hands again.

This demographic shift and export of younger, healthier residents pose challenges in terms of health care, social care, the local economy, and community engagement. It is essential to address these issues and ensure that the needs of all residents are met.

But Blackpool is a resilient place

Despite these challenges, residents of Blackpool and other seaside towns have shown remarkable resilience and community spirit. Local initiatives, grassroots organisations, charities and resident-led projects have emerged to address the decline and work towards revitalisation. Examples of this are evident right across Blackpool and I see them every week as a leading charity voice in our town.

Blackpool Food Bank, an incredible local charity I volunteer for, was founded in 2012 with a small group of people around a kitchen table and fed roughly 400 residents annually.

Now they provide 14,000 meals a week, just over a decade later. Nurturing and supporting these community-driven efforts is crucial in fostering a sense of empowerment and hope for the future.

Labour must look not just to the private sector but to community charities

To navigate the decline and build a brighter future, a future Labour government must not just look to the private sector but the charity sector in communities that have been left to waste under the Tories.  In Blackpool, we now have 247 charities operating in the town, which have stepped up to help those in need.

One of those is the charity I help lead as Chair of Trustees, Counselling In The Community. A mental health charity founded in 2017 to ensure counselling is accessible for all.

Residents come to us after they are informed waiting times for mental health support are around 18 months in Blackpool for children and young people and slightly less for adults.

As a charity we offer counselling services to anyone, with waiting times of around 3-4 weeks, using a mixture of 70 volunteer trainees and qualified counsellors, seeing 150 individuals a week. Our waiting list is around 160 and this is growing week on week as more and more people can’t access NHS mental health support.

For us as a service, we could secure more trainee counsellors from local universities to triple our capacity, however our issue is finance. As a small charity, we simply don’t have the funds to expand into new premises at this time.

A community investment fund could dramatically boost capacity

However, suppose a future Labour government harnessed charities like ours already helping individuals in the community, with funding from a community investment fund.

So those in the charity sector can play a large part in reducing NHS waiting lists after a decade of underfunding and significantly improving access to mental health support for a fraction of the cost of the private sector.

Investment can allow local authorities, community groups, and residents can collaborate to identify and leverage the unique strengths of each area. This will lead to new employment and training opportunities and improved infrastructure.

All achieved by increasing the capacity of local charities and third-sector organisations, who have attempted to fill the gaps under austerity and promote a sense of pride in the town’s heritage and identity.

Community charities can also embrace sustainability

Communities must also explore innovative solutions and embrace sustainable practices. Encouraging entrepreneurship, promoting eco-tourism, capitalising on the need for green renewable technologies and focusing on cultural regeneration can help diversify the local economy and attract new opportunities.

Wes Streeting is right in pledging to use the private sector in a limited capacity to bring down waiting lists, just like the last Labour government did. A policy that saved my mother’s life.

But after 14 years of austerity, I believe the charity sector could be the silver bullet to solving the health crisis we face in England quickly, efficiently, and more cost-effectively than competing private sector alternatives in the same area.

We are republishing this piece from February 2024 as a recall petition has now opened in Blackpool South.

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