I’m the vicar at All Saints Church, Hanley, in the heart of Stoke-on-Trent. My church began life in 1913 as a mission chapel for the poor. Built with an open-air pulpit, its founding congregation were the processions of impoverished workers winding their way up the hill across the road to the factory gates. At the time of our church’s construction, the Potteries was one of the great industrial wonders of the world. And then, one day, all that went. The four major pillars of industry that stood here 35 years ago – coal, steel, ceramics and manufacturing – the foundations on which the city was built, were swept away by the tremors of “progress”.
Our city now finds itself suffering from some of the highest unemployment rates in Britain. The decent jobs, which once gave people dignity, have trickled away – replaced by insecure, poorly paid work in services and distribution. The pubs, the labour clubs and the mutual societies that tethered these working communities together – that’s gone too. For decade, after decade, after decade, the working men and women of Stoke-on-Trent felt forgotten. But Brexit changed all that.
Last summer – by 70% to 30% – the people of my city voted to leave the European Union. Ever since I arrived here five years ago, I’ve understood that what people really want is to be heard. So I wasn’t surprised when my parishioners voted the way they did. The people of the Potteries are proud – not in a way that’s steeped in…