On the banks of the River Mersey, a town is desperate for hope

Teresa Tierney sitting on a bench in Warrington town centre
-Credit: (Image: Dan Haygarth / Liverpool ECHO)

"The town has changed a lot from what it used to be like", says Alex Tennant.

"Especially with midweek footfall it's decreased," he adds. "You could go out on a Tuesday, when it was student night and people would come from Liverpool and Manchester - it would be busy and it would be a good night.

"These days in the week, it's quite timid. The main people you see out are bar staff that treated Tuesday and Wednesday as their weekend, because they're working at the weekend".

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Alex, 31, is the general manager of The Blue Bell, a traditional pub found on Horsemarket Street in the town centre of Warrington. Speaking to the ECHO from behind the bar, while a couple of drinkers enjoy a pint on outside tables, he is disheartened about the lack of buzz in the town.

The ECHO visited Warrington on the baking hot Tuesday afternoon of last week's brief heatwave. Despite the warm weather, the town centre was quite quiet, with few people milling around.

"I've been around Warrington a long time, I've run a lot of bars," explains Alex. "I'm chair of Warrington Pub Watch and we work closely together.

"We work closely with BID (Business Improvement District), the council and the police to host events in the town. We want to make sure things can happen here."

Alex Tennant outside The Blue Bell pub in Warrington
Alex Tennant outside The Blue Bell pub in Warrington -Credit:Dan Haygarth / Liverpool ECHO

Asked how that could be achieved, Alex adds: "I think Warrington needs more publicity in other places. All of us who live in Warrington and are from Warrington love Warrington.

"We have loads of events going on, but I don't think that people who aren't from Warrington know about that. We don't get publicity about us after a certain radius - I think we used to."

A historic town, Warrington was founded by the Romans as a vital crossing point of the River Mersey. Essentially marking the halfway point between Liverpool and Manchester, the town's proximity to the river meant it grew and developed during the industrial revolution.

Warrington expanded again, when its northern areas became the basis of Birchwood - a new town - in the 1960s. However, as was the case for many towns across the North, heavy industry declined in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nowadays, there is a feeling similar to that which Alex described - that this is a town which has seen its fortunes go backwards. Though it has seen developments recently, most notably the £142m rejuvenation of Time Square with a new market, cinema, shops and offices in 2020, census data in 2021 found that almost one in two households in the town are deprived.

Earlier this month, it was reported that Warrington Council had debts of £1.8bn after years of local council cuts inflicted by Conservative-led governments. The council failed to find an auditor and it announced earlier this year that it faced "a difficult budget challenge" as it desperately attempted to plug a budget gap of up to £26 million, making it increasingly hard to fund vital public services.

As you walk through Warrington town centre, you see a number of boarded up shops and derelict buildings. It feels like Warrington is in need of a change - and change could be around the corner.

A derelict building in Warrington town centre
A derelict building in Warrington town centre -Credit:Liverpool ECHO

The country will go to the polls on Thursday for the general election, with Sir Keir Starmer's Labour Party expected to cruise into power. It could mean a fresh start for towns like this one.

The borough of Warrington is split into two constituencies. Warrington North, which covers its northern and eastern areas including Birchwood, Orford, Padgate, Poulton and Woolston, is a Labour stronghold.

The other constituency - Warrington South - is a true swing seat. Covering the parts of Warrington found south of the Mersey, including the town centre, Appleton, Grappenhall and Stockton Heath, it has been represented by Conservative MP Andy Carter since 2019.

Mr Carter took the seat from Labour's Faisal Rashid at that election as Boris Johnson's Conservatives made sweeping gains across the North of England. It was a very close race in Warrington South, as Mr Carter won with 28,187 votes to Mr Rashid's 26,177.

However, Labour have their sights set on reclaiming the seat with candidate Sarah Hall at this election. It is exactly the sort of constituency that Sir Keir's party will feel they have to win if they are to form the next government.

In Stockton Heath, there is hope that a Labour-run country could be transformative for Warrington as a whole.

Corey Tassone, 29, shows genuine enthusiasm about voting for Labour.

"I don't think things can get any worse nationally," explains Corey, who is assistant manager of The Mulberry Tree pub on London Road.

"The amount of scandals that have been going on recently with the Conservatives - it's been a downfall since covid when they had all the allegations of parties during lockdown.

"All things like that and I've just seen the scandal of betting on what day the election is going to be. I don't think Labour will get into trouble like that."

Corey thinks that the country is so fed up with the Tories that any sort of change will be welcome. He thinks it will be "Labour by default" as a result.

Corey Tassone outside The Mulberry Tree in Stockton Heath
Corey Tassone is the assistant manager of The Mulberry Tree in Stockton Heath -Credit:Dan Haygarth / Liverpool ECHO

He adds: "I just want change. I've always voted Labour in general elections anyway - I vote Green in the locals and I would like Green to have more power.

"But when it comes to general elections, it's always Labour. I want to get rid of the Conservatives.

"If that happens, I think things should improve for Warrington. I think people need more hope around here and I think that's another reason why it's going to be Labour.

"Partly we're fed up with the Conservatives, but there's a feeling that Labour can actually improve things. For example, more needs to be done to support local councils.

"As a business, we've had a lot of back and forth with Warrington Council when we've needed help. Roads need to be cleared because they get flooded during rain and it affects us getting deliveries.

"If we're getting beer deliveries, they can't get down the drop here because it's so wet. We have a constant back and forth with the council, councils just have no money. Potholes take ages to get fixed, councils get absolutely no funding from the government."

Across the road from The Mulberry Tree, Bex Loxham, 27, is finishing her shift at Brew Coffee. She is less convinced than Corey that a Labour government will improve Warrington's fortunes.

"I hope the election can improve things - fingers crossed," explains Bex.

"I vote for Labour and I will vote Labour again - I think Labour will win the constituency more than I have (ever) thought they would before.

"A lot of people seem to be fed up nationally and this constituency tends to keep in line with the country's mood."

However, Bex is worried that Labour faces an uphill battle to fix the country's - and Warrington's - problems. Sir Keir has promised to "stoke the fire of change" and rebuild Britain after 14 tumultuous years under the Conservatives, but his manifesto has been accused of being cautious, partly in response to the economic problems his party will inherit.

On this, Bex adds: "I do worry that the Labour Party wouldn’t offer this part of the world a great deal. I think they're the lesser of two evils.

Bex Loxham, 27, at Brew Coffee in Stockton Heath
Bex Loxham, 27, at Brew Coffee in Stockton Heath -Credit:Dan Haygarth / Liverpool ECHO

"I'd like to see more of a backbone from Labour. I think Starmer is a bit centrist and I'm not sure he's committed to doing anything really.

"But I think politics in Warrington isn't a very big deal generally - people don't care. I think people think they're fine with things how they are because they don't think politics will impact their lives enough.

"Warrington needs anything. I don't feel like we get anything from a government point of view, or from a local election point of view, that helps in any way.

"I think the place needs some hope but I wouldn't ever count on the government doing anything for Warrington."

Such a sentiment was also evident when the ECHO was in the town centre. Many people who we spoke to said they didn't follow politics, had no interest in it or accused the two main parties as being just like each other. For Alex at the Blue Bell, there was not much excitement about the prospect of going to the polling station.

"I probably will vote Labour, but I fall into that bracket that people don't like of 'will my vote matter?'" he explains. "I get that's a stupid way of thinking because if everyone thought like that then nobody would vote."

One man who wishes he could make a difference on Thursday is Khalid Elhaj, 44. Sitting with a friend on a bench on Bridge Street, he says: "I'm from Sudan and I can't vote in the general election because I'm waiting still for my asylum claim to be considered. It's eight months now since I submitted it.

"I hope I will have the right to vote one day. I would vote for Labour because they will send no-one to Rwanda - at least here I'm going to be safe."

The Labour Party has committed to scrapping the Conservative Party's highly-controversial Rwanda Scheme. Backed by Rishi Sunak, the system could see asylum seekers deported to Rwanda, where they would be resettled.

The Supreme Court ruled the Rwanda policy to be unlawful earlier last year and in response, Amnesty International labelled the policy "massively ill-conceived and cruel."

Khalid Elhaj sitting on a bench in Warrington town centre
Khalid Elhaj is from Sudan but lives in Warrington -Credit:Dan Haygarth / Liverpool ECHO

Khalid adds: "The day I came here I was told there was a possibility they would send me to Rwanda. That's why I would vote for Labour - I'm ignorant about a lot of UK politics, but I think that's how I would vote.

"I like Warrington, the people are friendly and when we need help, they help us. I want to stay."

For Teresa Tierney, 76, it's a simple choice on Thursday. Sitting on a bench on Bridge Street in the town centre, she tells the ECHO: "I feel like the town needs help.

"There's a lot of homeless people in town. We need to have more support for homeless people and find people better jobs, definitely.

"I'll vote for Labour. I've not voted Labour all of the time - I voted Conservative last time. But I'll vote Labour this year because the Tories aren't doing anything for us. They just look after themselves - all of them.

"Labour used to be good - I used to always vote Labour, the whole family used to. The whole town used to."

Sir Keir Starmer and his team will hope that Teresa and her fellow residents in Warrington will back his party and turn this town red after July 4.

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