'It's an old town with old fashioned people. Everyone says they want change but for 100 years nothing has happened'

GVs of Ashton in Makerfield, Wigan.
-Credit: (Image: Manchester Evening News)

It's a sunny afternoon in Makerfield and the streets are bustling with people hauling shopping bags up and down Gerard Street.

One building that stands tall is the Greenway Shopping Centre. Built in 1885, the building enjoyed great success as one of the busiest pubs in Wigan - as the Gerard Arms. It was then turned into a local mall which was home to small retail units and eateries on the first and ground floor.

Now it's home to a beauty salon, e-cig shop and upstairs are the traditional stores of cafes, bakeries and card shops. However, at just gone 2pm on a Friday afternoon and only two shops are open on the first floor of the building.

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"This place used to be fantastic when we had the market at the back. This used to be the place to go, you couldn't get in," said James Swallow, the owner a wool shop and haberdashery found in Greensway.

The 54-year-old, says the closed shutters and empty units are a symptom of the closure of the once thriving Ashton Market which operated behind Greensway for 100 years, giving a reason for locals to venture into town and bringing a substantial amount of footfall for local business until it was closed in 2017.

Greensway Shopping Centre, Ashton-in-Makerfield
The entrance to the Greensway Shopping Centre -Credit:MEN

"It's something the people around here really want back and the town wants back." He continued. "There was a few other stalls that moved in here when the market closed and we dragged a few people in and there has been a gradual decline."

However, last year, it was announced that the town centre was to get £6.6million from the government's levelling up fund. Proposed improvements included upgrades to shop fronts, upgraded streets and public spaces as well as greenery and lights along Garswood Street and Gerard Street.

James welcomed the new found money but was quick to mention his worries about what is to be done to the car park on Garswood Street, which like the Market did in its heyday, plays a pivotal role in his business' success.

James Swallow, 54
Local business man, James Swallow -Credit:MEN

"Ashton itself is very much up and coming, the amount of small bars that are full overnight," he told the MEN.

"It's definitely changed and its changed quite drastically in the last few years. We have too many vape shops and too many takeaways at the moment but they are trying to bring the standards up a little bit.

"The high street is always busy, it's not too bad, it's very up and coming and they've been given £6.2 million to regenerate it. But if that car park goes then this centre will go."

Makerfield, considered to be among the safest Labour seats in the country, will soon have a new MP. Yvonne Fovargue announced she would not seek re-election at the general election on July 4, having represented the area since 2010.

Josh Simons is hoping to keep the seat red. Which is the colour James predicts Makerfield will vote, but not to his approval.

He said: "I talk to an awful lot of people and we all agree that business owners are going to vote Conservatives and people in the workforce are going to vote Labour, it's always been that way."

"All my business owners are saying this is the worst Conservatives government ever and they need a change. The policies being put out by all the parties are bloody ridiculous.

"It's like nobody wants to win it! Keir Starmer keeps saying they're going to get the economy better but hasn't spoken about how they are going to do it. Then you've got conscription basically from the Conservatives, nobody wants to win it.

"Wigan is a very old town with old fashioned people. Everyone says they want change for a 100 years nothing has happened.

"If you talk to everyone it's the same thing from this particular area. We want change but when election comes around people vote Labour because their grandad or grandmother voted Labour.

"It's very difficult to change mentalities here."

Stuart Scrivens is the owner of the only other store still open in Greensway on the Friday afternoon. One of the most popular miniature replica model stores in the North West, he thinks the people of Makerfield could do with being as open minded as he is about who they vote for.

"Ashton is a good little town. There's potential here and it just needs to have a bit of pride put into it.

"You could put a red rose on anything on this town and everyone will vote for it. Farage has just come and it's fantastic, he's been a breath of fresh air.

"Everybody slags off the Conservatives but will Labour do any different? Will they get in and all our potholes disappear, will waiting times at hospital be down to two hours rather than days?

"Nothing will happen in the end. I just wish they'd all get together and sort the country out together instead of lambasting each other on a Wednesday afternoon."

Stuart Scrivens
Stuart Scrivens says he has been impressed by Nigel Farage and the Reform Party -Credit:MEN

Elsewhere, tattoo artist Millie Barton is feeling the pressure of the rising cost of living. A freelancer, she says that she is worried about her future due to the instability she is facing.

"Because everyone's financial situations have changed so drastically, I went from being booked up all the time to customers saying they just cannot afford it now. It just happened all of a sudden, the last year especially has been so up and down."

Self employed, she is looking for a party who will have her best interest at heart to ease the burden.

"I've chosen to be self employed and I know the pros and cons of that. There is definitely high points but the cons are definitely so extreme. It's a shame that people are struggling so much with being self employed and there is not a lot of support with that.

"It's making people less likely for people to star their own business and being ambitious. I'm looking for a party will put things in place that will help people with ambition.

"There are benefit schemes and they are great and work for people, but there are so many nuances that need addressing. There are things that I'm not eligible for and it's about making things more accessible."

Millie Barton
Millie Barton wants more support for the self employed -Credit:MEN

There is little on the streets to suggest a huge poll is nearing, or that the country's headlines are dominated by political campaigning. There are no signs in party colours in shop windows or outside homes.

Natalie Bruce, 40, has lived in the area for seven years. She's torn between going with her head or her heart. "If I'm honest, I want to vote for the Greens because they're my favourites," she tells the Manchester Evening News.

"But I don't know if I should vote Labour just so the Tories stay out. I'm very left and the Greens are for everything I stand for. I agree with everything they say and I think Carla Denyer is just killing it at the minute - she's wiping the floor with everyone.

"I'm torn because I'm having to choose between my head and my heart. If I vote Labour, I don't think anything will change. Some things might but maybe not as much as we need it to."

Natalie Bruce in Ashton town centre
Natalie is 'torn' on who to vote for -Credit:MEN

On how she’ll make the decision on the day, she said: “There’s so much that needs changing in every face of life in the UK. The housing crisis, cost of living and also, they might say they’ll do things but I don’t trust that they’ll follow through.

"It'll take more than just a shiny policy or well written manifesto to sway me."

There are others who find themselves politically homeless like Natalie and are beginning to look at the alternatives. One business owner who preferred to remain anonymous so as not to attach any political ideologies to their establishment said: “I’m a big fan of Nigel Farage so I’m excited to see what’s going to happen with him. I don’t trust the Tories and Labour haven’t got it together.”

Inside a well-kept pawnbroker on Gerard Street, owner, Sharon David, and staff member Paula Green diligently tend to their tasks. Paula, 65, has lived in Ashton-in-Makerfield for 48 years and says she has seen first-hand the devastation that the rising cost of living has had on the people.

-Credit:Manchester Evening News
-Credit:Manchester Evening News

“I got a gentleman in; he was 70 and he sold his wife’s wedding ring to pay for his gas. His wife had died five years prior; he was in tears, it was awful.” She recalled.

“It’s like when you see the elderly go in the library at wintertime. Have they ever questioned why people are going in there? It’s because they can’t keep warm. “They’re isolating people.”

Ruth says that for now, she will not be making her way to the polls come July 4th as she has yet to find a party that represents her.

“I will not go and vote. All of them aren’t in touch with normal people.” She exclaimed.

Sharon, a Jewish man says he will be heading to the polls to vote but has pledged to never vote for Labour due to what he viewed as a poor handling of incidents of anti-Semitism in the party.

“We know that Labour are going to win this election, so what can we do?” He said. “But I think that will finish this country. I’m not Labour, I never will be, there is too much anti-Semitism.

“I know they say they have addressed it but it’s still too much.”

Romit Pawnbroker on Gerard Street, Ashton-in-Makerfield
Romit Pawnbroker on Gerard Street, Ashton-in-Makerfield -Credit:MEN

66-year-old Ray Finney is one of the long-term Labour voters that has made Makerfield a reliable red wall. He says that he’s quite ‘happy’ about the upcoming elections as it gives him a chance to vote the Tories out.

He told the MEN: “I’m sick and fed up of the Tories. With everything that’s going on, the cost of living, the NHS.

“I’ll be voting Labour, I voted for Labour in the last election and will be doing in the next one, I always have done that's how it goes in this area."

Ray Finney poses for the camera in Ashton-in-Makerfield
Ray Finney is 'happy' that a local election is taking place this summer -Credit:MEN

Bethany Brimble is the co-owner of the Cupcakery, bakery store that has only been opened for a year she told the MEN that while she wasn't too excited about voting this year, she felt it her duty as a woman and mother set a good example: “As a woman I’ll have to vote." She explained.

"I have four female children so therefore I have to bring them up to vote. We fought for this vote and it’s important for them to have their say.

“I’d vote for Labour because they’re just not the Conservatives. It’s about voting someone in who is wanted in, someone that was voted by the people.

“If I was male, I probably wouldn’t vote at all because I don’t think it would make any difference. It’s a rigged system.”

The Cupcakery, Gerard Street, Ashton-in-Makerfield
Betheny Brimble, owner of the Cupcakery feels its her duty to vote as a woman -Credit:MEN

James Edward Colee, 74, remained coy on who he would vote for but voiced a growing distrust of both the Labour and the Conservative Party. His issue has been exacerbated by the Labour’s decision to overlook local councillors to replace Yvonne Fovargue.

“They’re saying he’s not local and there was a quite a few decent councillors that have done a lot fort the area. It would be better if one of them did it, but it’s not to be. I don’t think it’s right.

“That’s not enough to stop me from voting for Labour but I’ll never vote Tory, I’ll put it that way.

GVs of Ashton in Makerfield, Wigan.
Ashton resident James believes there is growing support for the Reform Party in Ashton-in-Makerfield -Credit:Manchester Evening News

However, he did agree with the sentiment about growing support for the Reform Party in the area.

“With Reform, I see something different, but everybody has written them off and that might make me bat for them. One of my biggest fallouts with Labour was with their support for the Clean Air Zone.

“None of them can really sway me because whatever they say they do, it won’t happen. There is also the option to not voting, I just don’t trust them.

“Never trust a politician.”