5 live Budget Day: Chorley and Falmouth
The Covered Market in Chorley
"We'd like to adopt a town," I'm told. It's two o'clock on a Thursday afternoon and I'm slightly taken aback by the request. What? Like adopting an endangered species in a zoo I wonder?
"What sort of town?", I ask.
"Well, one we can follow after the budget over the coming months to see how they fare economically". Ah, I get it now...
I look at a map of the North West and consider a dozen more. Suddenly I spot the right one - Chorley. It's a medium-sized market town in Lancashire with a mixed population, and they are doing their best to fight the economic downturn. Since April last year, 51 new businesses have set up in the town.
Unless you were a fan of Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights (...Chorley FM anyone?) you might not know much about the town. Its wealth was built principally on the cotton industry. Until fairly recently the Royal Ordnance Factory, a large munitions factory a couple of miles from the town centre, employed thousands. But it doesn't exist now.
Despite the closure of many major factories, and the associated economic hardship this has caused, the people of Chorley are undoubtedly cheerful. In fact the council has launched the Chorley Smile Campaign, inviting its residents to grin as much as they can to give themselves a sense of well being. As far as I can see it it's working. Everyone has been exceptionally friendly to me during my research.
From Wednesday, Budget Day, 5 live will be in Chorley asking people how they think they'll be affected and we'll be returning regularly over the next year to see how things are going.
We'll ask taxi drivers how the price of fuel is affecting business. We'll speak to landlords about tax on drinks and we'll be asking parents and students how the state of the UK economy is affecting them.
Ruth has three part-time jobs and is worried about meeting her mortgage payments. Gwynne is 63 and comfortable but he's worried about the future of his children and grand-children. And Cathy is concerned that her grand-daughter will not be able to afford to go to university.
We'll look at who is doing well in today's economy and who is struggling and why. Together with opinions from our other adopted town Falmouth, 5 live hopes the people of Chorley will help to give us a regular snapshot of what they believe is the state of their country and their future.
Judy Hobson is 5 live's North West of England reporter
A view of Falmouth's Custom House from the water courtesy of Paul Watts
Standing on the dockside in the early spring sunshine and looking out over the rippling waves of the world's third deepest natural harbour it's not hard to see why holidaymakers head to Falmouth on the south coast of Cornwall. The 21 thousand or so people that live and work in the town have grown used to seeing cruise liners regularly tie up. And as thoughts turn to icecream and suncream, they see their seaside home transform into a bustling marine resort attracting sun seekers, second homeowners and sailors alike.
So why am I here on the quayside ? Well, not just to admire the view. Over the next twelve months, 5 live will be testing the economic temperature away from the corridors of Westminster to try and find out what kind of impact political decisions in Whitehall really have on the day-to-day lives of people living hundreds of miles away. And while sometimes here in Cornwall you really can feel like you've got away from it all - just like anywhere else, you can't escape the ripple effect of the global downturn or the decisions taken in the capital to try and get the economy back on track .
Here, the sea has always played an important part in keeping Falmouth's economy afloat. These marinas will start to buzz soon heralding the start of another summer season - thousand of tourists head west to sunbathe on the golden sand of the town's beaches, meander through the narrow streets or just sample the soft Cornish air. Tourism is the economic backbone of this university town.
A street scene in Falmouth courtesy of Trevor Burrows
Large tankers are also a familiar sight in the harbour. Falmouth is home to Cornwall's largest port. As one of the town's largest employers it's been part of the area's maritime history for the last 400 years and is looking to expand bringing the possibility of new jobs on the horizon if the plans get passed. Not far from the dockside is the relatively new University College Falmouth. With the influx of students has come new building, new money and a new nightlife.
So on the face of it you'd be forgiven all is well. But according to business experts, scratch the surface and you find parts of the town are really struggling.Tourism is seasonal and just like many other places that rely on holiday makers to spend, spend, spend when the schools go back or the belt tightening begins ... so the tills stop ringing quite. The town has seen European money pumped in but set against a backdrop of a global downturn it's a difficult time to attract inward investment.
It also means there's been a drop off in boat and property maintenance. Look on the outskirts and you'll see under-developed or unused industrial sites. Patchy transport links don't help. The credit crunch cocktail of low wages, the lack of good jobs and high house prices means lots of young people feel the need to move away..
So according to the experts this is a seaside town that's firmly caught up in the economic ebb and flow. It still has plenty to shout about but with the current squeeze on everyone's back pocket, it's not always able to capitalise on what it's got.
Sarah Ransome is 5 live's South West of England reporter.