It’s difficult to explain this to young people, but there was a time when we actually had ‘inward investment’ in the valleys of South Wales. Heavy industry was in retreat, and died completely after the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5. Instead, Japanese companies like Hitachi, Panasonic and Sony took advantage of the low wage economy to build factories which employed hundreds of people.
The openings of these new plants were great occasions, attended by senior politicians and civic dignitaries (usually, but not exclusively, Tory MPs and Labour councillors). Quite a few of them survived for a reasonable length of times. Others, like the famous LG factory in Newport, only lasted as long as the government subsidies before the company relocated to an even lower wage economy in south-east Asia.
That was then.
I was walking through Aberdare a couple of days ago when I noticed that a previously empty shop has been refitted. A sign above the door announced that it’s being turned into a British Red Cross charity shop.
This new charity shop will be about three doors away from the Ty Hafan charity shop, and almost directly opposite the Adref charity shop. In Aberdare’s main shopping street, the British Heart Foundation shop is directly opposite the St David’s Hospice charity shop. At the lower end of the street, there’s a Barnardos charity shop. Barnardos also had a decent second-hand bookshop a few years ago, which I frequented regularly. They had an eclectic mix of books and a rather attractive redhead who was behind the counter most days. (What’s not to like?)
In Market Street, there’s a junk shop run by a Christian charity called Lighthouse. We did have an Oxfam shop years ago, a couple of doors away from The Carpenters. You know your town’s in serious decline when the Oxfam shop closes.
According to a sign on the door of the new shop, the Mayor of Rhondda Cynon Taf will be present when it opens. That’s how far Aberdare has come in thirty years. Once upon a time the Secretary of State for Wales would be wined and dined at a high-tech factory opening. Now we’ve descended to a civic occasion marking the arrival of yet another charity shop in town.
A couple of days ago, Leanne Wood pointed out that the Welsh Valleys still haven’t emerged from the recession before the present one. My friend Les Davies told me, not long ago, that we’ve actually been in a recession since 1929. I think he had a point. When we’re expected to celebrate the opening of another bloody charity shop, you have to wonder exactly when the economic recovery is due to kick in locally, don’t you?