Our journey north began in January 2017, 80 years after Eric Blair – George Orwell’s real name – published the story of his travels to Wigan Pier in 1937.
We began in the snow in Birmingham, where homeless people were already dragging their bedding into an open garage where a homeless man had died a few days earlier from hypothermia.
The last 18 months have been an extraordinary journey through ‘ordinary’ Britain – its cafes, homeless shelters, community centres, cold streets, churches, mosques and foodbanks, meeting people barely surviving on zero and low hours, in slum housing, families struggling to eat and clothe their children, workers showering before work in homeless shelters after sleeping on the streets.
It might have been a depressing journey except for the extraordinary people we met and who you will meet here. Brilliant, funny, clever, insightful, interesting people who are being failed just as the people Orwell described were.
Over the next few months, this Daily Mirror special project will continue to tell these stories all along Orwell’s route – covering Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Barnsley, Sheffield and Wigan and the places in-between.
“At one time, on one of the little muddy canals that run round the town, there used to be a tumble-down wooden jetty; and by way of a joke someone nicknamed this Wigan Pier. The joke caught on locally, and then the music-hall comedians got hold of it, and they are the ones who have succeeded in keeping Wigan Pier alive as a by-word, long after the place itself had been demolished.”– George Orwell on Wigan Pier, BBC World Service, 1943
In 1937, Orwell’s famous book exposed to middle class England the levels of poverty in which huge industrialised swathes of people in the north of the country were living in. The welfare state was his generation’s response to that poverty.
80 years on, that welfare safety net is failing. These are the voices of the people falling through.
We visit the city in England worst affected by local authority cuts
People forced to choose between libraries and basic care
The vulnerable people who are struggling just to survive
Is history repeating itself with the rise of the right?
They've been farmers for generation but they are now losing their livelihoods
The squalid slum-like conditions of the working poor
We meet the people of Wigan who say Orwell made their town a byword for grotesque poverty
When Orwell reached Liverpool, his guide was George Garrett, an almost unknown working-class writer
People came to Sheffield to escape Hitler and the city is carrying on that tradition of providing help to those in need
Born in Barnsley in 1923 Harry remembers the terrible experience of poverty as a child
Heartbreaking stories of poverty in Leeds and how people are fighting back with the 'humanifesto'