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Wigan Pier Project – 80th Anniversary Journey

In 1937, Orwell's book about poverty in Northern England shocked the country. Now we are retracing his route – join us as we tell the stories of Austerity Britain

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 Wigan Pier Project team Andy Stenning, Ros Wynne-Jones and Claire Donnelly. Inset, Orwell's book The Road To Wigan Pier

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.

Author George Orwell. Inset, the map Orwell drew of The Road To Wigan Pier

“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.

The People

We met lots of people along the route, here they share their experiences of living on a low income or struggling with welfare cuts

ASOS treated me like a slave - I had to 'prove' my wife had a miscarriage so I could be off to support her

Read Joe's story
 

ASOS treat people like rubbish - working there made me ill and anxious

Read Joanne's story
 

My flat is so small there's no room for a double bed

Read Ossie's story
 

People shouldn't have to beg for food

Read Vi's story
 

I had a stroke but couldn't get a GP appointment for three weeks

Read Pearl's story
 

We lost £220,000 of funding in one go

Read Shirley's story
 

I had my tonsils out on the kitchen table

Read Joyce's story
 

You could budget before - you can't now

Read Eileen's story
 
More people from the Wigan Pier Project