In defence of Middlesbrough, the supposed ‘worst place to grow up’ for girls
Contrary to what you might have read, it’s an excellent place to live
Earlier in the week a study revealed that my hometown, Middlesbrough, is the worst place for a girl to grow up in the UK. The result was decided by five factors; child poverty, life expectancy, teenage pregnancy, GCSE results and numbers Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET).
In response to the results, the Daily Mail approached me in Middlesbrough to give a comment. I spoke candidly about what it was like growing up here, but was horrified to see I appeared alongside a girl who made Surrey sound like a paradise, and Middlesbrough a hellhole by comparison.
I was worried I wouldn’t be able to show my face again – but luckily, my family, friends and neighbours, in classic Northern fashion, were nothing but supportive and understanding.
That’s the thing about growing up here. The people are great. The place, ultimately, is great. In fact, the experience of being in the paper, ostensibly talking about how bad the place is, has just given me the experience to clear up a few misconceptions of Middlesbrough and what it’s been like to grow up here.
I’ve been catcalled in Middlesbrough. It does happen. But that doesn’t make it the hellscape it’s been portrayed as. Although I can recall one occasion where it’s happened to me in the past month, overall I don’t feel threatened or harassed as I walk around the town centre. Catcalling is a problem, but crucially, it certainly isn’t one which is isolated to Middlesbrough, it happens all across the UK.
My experience growing up here has been a predominantly friendly one. I feel, at the most basic level, completely safe living here. And while I wouldn’t walk around alone in the dark, again, that’s not isolated to my area. It’s dangerous to walk alone at night, as a woman, anywhere – whether you’re in the North or nestled safely in Surrey.
At school, students receive nothing but encouragement, no matter what career they wish to pursue, we were certainly not pushed in any direction. Through my school I even attended Women in Engineering conference held at the Riverside Stadium aiming to encourage more women into the male-dominated profession. Although ultimately I decided Engineering was not for me, plenty of my friends have chosen to pursue engineering either at university or through an apprenticeship.
If I think back to the question I was asked – “what did you struggle with most at school” – my answer of “passing exams” seems the obvious one for any student. But it’s not indicative of poor standards in Northern schools. In fact, although I found exams stressful (like literally everyone else) I achieved A* A C in my A Levels in Maths, Media and Drama. My grades weren’t included in my interview – even though they were better than the ones the girl from Surrey had.
I believe Middlesbrough is an excellent place to live. If you like the countryside; Roseberry Topping and the North Yorkshire Moors are right on our doorstep. We are also within a short drive of beautiful coastlines. You’ve got the best of both worlds, in the middle of beautiful countryside but with enough bars, restaurants and places to go out that you’re never bored.
The community spirit is unrivalled. The people of Middlesbrough even come together to support one another through hard times such as the recent closure of the SSI steelworks. Middlesbrough is most certainly not a bad place to grow up and I see no reason why women in the town should be deemed as having less chance to succeed in any field, our very own Steph McGovern and Aimee Willmott prove otherwise.
Look, there are good and bad parts to every town. Although it does have its flaws, I’m still proud to say I grew up in Middlesbrough. I don’t truly believe the survey which says it’s a shit place to grow up for women. If my experience has taught me anything it’s that you can’t always believe what you read. But if there’s something we need to do, it’s represent ourselves better. We should actively try to improve the factors which have left Middlesbrough ranked last in this study – so the next stats can show we’re not as bad as we’re portrayed.
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