This week in the English GCSE class I teach as part of my training, I set the group a mock exam question that filled them with horror…
Your town needs tourists. Write an article for a magazine in which you promote your town and persuade people to come along and visit.
It’s a standard question of the kind they’ll face in their exam, testing their skills in the area of persuasive writing and requiring them to use literary devices such as alliteration, rhetorical questions and the rule of three (the latter of which I just demonstrated). But it wasn’t any of these that made them run screaming to the water cooler: it was the idea of finding anything good to say about their hometown of Barnsley.
Like many small northern towns, Barnsley has an entirely undeserved reputation that is advanced by two distinct social groups: young people who’ve lived their whole life there and people who have never even visited. In answer to the first of those groups, I’ll say this: go to any small town in the UK (or anywhere else in the world) and ask the average 16 year old whether there’s anything cool going on and they’ll invariably answer with a resounding “NO!” Partly this is because (particularly at that age), familiarity breeds contempt and the grass is always greener anywhere else but home. And partly it’s because the fervent desire to “get out of this town” is an essential element of growing up… wherever you’re from.
“It’s a town full of losers – I’m pulling out of here to win…”
That’s how Bruce Springsteen summed it up, and he was singing about New Jersey on ‘Born To Run’. Yet, I bet if you set your average Barnsley 16 year old down on the boardwalks of NJ, they’d think it the most exciting place they’d ever seen. Familiarity breeds contempt but new places are always more exciting and exotic.
As to the second group of Barnsley doubters, those who have never even set foot in the town… well, until this time last year, I was one of them. Despite living just a half hour’s drive away, I’d never had any reason to go there and my opinion was probably tainted by the kind of cynical prejudice that makes places like Barnsley, Oldham and, yes, Huddersfield a natural target for southern comedians and anyone keen to uphold the “flat cap and whippets” stereotype. But I was wrong, and I’m glad to admit it. Barnsley is a great town with warm, friendly (and often very funny) residents. It’s also a wonderful place to study. And, no, I’m not just saying that because I’m employed by the Uni to write this blog. Hopefully in coming posts I’ll get to talk a little more about what Barnsley has to offer… and maybe even “persuade people to come along and visit”.