In defence of... Wolverhampton

The i10 building, which the council helped fund. Image: City of Wolverhampton.

Last week, YouGov published its survey of the most popular British cities. Out of 57 cities, Wolverhampton came a miserable 56th. (CityMetric covered the results here.)

This got me annoyed. I might live in London these days, but I still feel a strong affinity with my hometown, and I feel like I’m one of the few people banging the drum for the city.

Responding on Twitter to a friend that it was ridiculous that Wolverhampton was so low, another friend from school commented: "[The Survey] is bang on. F***ing s***hole". And this isn’t the only time Wolverhampton has been so publically humiliated: there was also the ridiculous survey carried out in 2009 by Lonely Planet which stated that Wolverhampton was the fifth worst city in the world.

I’ll be honest Wolverhampton isn’t exactly York, which topped the survey. (And rightly so: it's lovely.) But I'd argue that Wolverhampton gets a particularly bad rep, not least from its own citizens, who forever seem to talk the town down. Indeed, at the time of writing an online survey for the local paper Express & Star had 52 per cent of respondents agreeing that Wolverhampton is the second worst city in the UK! Come on folks, it’s not that bad!

And if we think so negatively, no wonder the rest of the country does. If nearby Stoke-on-Trent can be 16th in YouGov’s survey then Wolverhampton should definitely be higher.


There’s a wider issue with the survey: people often hold negative views of their own towns. This isn’t surprising, as many have been forgotten in recent decades and have suffered massive underinvestment, leading to decline. Much of the focus and the money tends to pour into the bigger cities, leaving the smaller towns and cities behind. 

I can understand the frustration with Wolverhampton. As soon as something decent opens up in the city centre, something else will close down; and it has struggled as a result of the recession, and increasing competition from the Merry Hill shopping centre, Telford and Birmingham. 

Still, though, Wolverhampton has a lot going for it. We have some great cultural assets like the Art Gallery, Grand Theatre and the Civic Hall; Moseley Old Hall in the east, and Wightwick Manor in the west. We had the first automatic traffic lights in the UK, and our local newspaper, the Express & Star is the biggest in the country. Notable Wulfrunians include the band Slade, athlete Denise Lewis, former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King and popstar Liam Payne (who I used to ride the school bus with back in the day), not to mention our Premier League football team, the Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Looking to the future, we’re getting a new train station and tram extension, investment into new developments such as i54 in the north of the city, a newly revamped Mander shopping centre, a new home for our market, the Westside leisure complex and new housing and office developments. All of this will be a much needed shot in the arm for the city.

I’m proud to be a Wulfrunian. And I strongly feel we need to take more pride in the smaller towns and cities, like I do with Wolverhampton, rather than talking them down. After all, if my fellow Wulfrunians don't do it, then no one else will.

James Potts tweets as @JamesPotts. Want to write in defence of your town? Get in touch.

 
 
 
 

Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.