The calm before another storm

Views of Rotherham as another protest march takes place on Saturday
Views of Rotherham as another protest march takes place on Saturday
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Stroll around in the early Autumn sunshine and you wouldn’t have a clue.

Shoppers shop, young mothers push expensive buggies through town, old men smoke on street benches, families eat McDonald’s in Minster Gardens.

The EDL protest in Leeds

The EDL protest in Leeds

You can see it’s a town that’s still going through hard times – shops stand empty, street drinkers gather and there’s a high proportion of young men with nothing to do.

It’s surviving rather than flourishing.

But the recent improvements and the small but significant detail of the personality of the town are in danger of being forgotten.

The Gallery Town project that puts copies of classic paintings on walls, the high-grade steel production, the transformation and re-birth of the High Street by entrepreneur Chris Hamby and a resurgent Rotherham United in its fantastic new stadium will count for nothing.

Rotherham could soon be a name associated only with tragedy like Hillsborough, Dunblane, Soham, Lockerbie, names that have become shorthand for events so terrible that the mention of those places outside their immediate vicinities conjures up only the tragedy and horror of their darkest days.

Since the Jay report was released four weeks ago there has been a real danger that the name of Rotherham would join that list and be known only for child abuse.

Child abuse on an industrial scale.

Child abuse that shocked the town, the country and the world with 1,400 youngsters thought to have been abused over 16 years largely by Pakistani men and the subsequent admissions of cover-ups and incompetence so blatant they were scarcely believable.

Now the town is the target of political extremists desperate to use the tragic events to further their agendas. They are bused in in their hundreds seemingly every other week marching, agitating and disrupting.

Look at their names, The English Defence League, the British National Party and Britain First and you don’t need to read a manifesto to know where they are coming from and what their views might be.

And you know what?

Most people in Rotherham are sick to death of them.

Of course they have some support in the town and many are worried about the issues raised.

But most of the town centre, the shoppers and traders are sick of the marches, the disruption and the media portrayal of Rotherham as a centre of racial tension, corruption and unrest.

“When I hear them talking about Rotherham on the television I can hardly believe they are talking about the place I live and grew up in,” said a lady called Val from Masborough who declined to give her full name.

“We know some terrible things have happened here and we can’t hide from that but for a while it was as though there was no other news. This isn’t something that can be sorted out in a few weeks it’s going to take years and having all these people marching through town isn’t going to help.”

In a one-hour walk around the streets people were willing to talk but no-one would be named or photographed by The Star. On Saturday another march will take place, this time by the Britain First group whose crest says ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Taking Our Country Back’.

The march starts in the West Street car park near the town centre. Today in the attendant’s hut in the car park sits a lad with a union flag blanket hanging behind him. He knows about the march and we asked if the flag indicated his political leanings.

“No, I’m not into all that. The flag thing is only hanging there to keep the sun off my DVD player, it’s nowt to do wi’ me.”

Fair enough.

Ironically enough Saturday’s march starts opposite a street called Unity Place. The shop on the corner is Sabir’s Grill and the lad working behind the counter said he didn’t open on the last march day and he won’t open on Saturday: “It’s just not worth it,” he said.

Past the derelict Cutlers Arms and the boarded up shops on Main Street following the route the marchers will take on Saturday, past the busy Wetherspoon’s pub The Corn Law Rhymer and on to a transformed and vibrant High Street.

Shop owner Maria Furborough is against the march.

“The marches keep people away from the town centre and trade drops like mad,” said Maria, originally from Leicester.

“If people know it’s going to happen they stay away. I don’t bring my kids, who normally come in on Saturdays, when the marches are on. The last march had so many police that no-one came down here at all. It won’t make the Government do anything, although things do need to change.

“I don’t think we can have uncontrolled immigration when we are putting less money into schools and hospitals and other services than we were 20 years ago. It just doesn’t add up. A lot of people are being called racist when all they want is the best for everybody.”

Through the town centre and to All Saint’s Square and life goes on as normal.

On Saturday it will be filled with slogans, speeches and posturing but today the timeless of boys looking at girls and girls pretending to ignore them, goes on as ever.

“I don’t think it’s necessary for them to march again,” said another shopkeeper who insisted on remaining anonymous. Let them get on with their inquiry now. If there’s nothing done in six months then they can start marching again. Last time it cost £1million to police the march and there’s no money for anything these days.

“They could be spending some of that money helping the victims of abuse or trying to get to the bottom of the cover-up. The Muslims seem to be getting the blame but they are bad elements within the Muslim community that did it. Muslims own this shop and they are nice people.

“Because some behaved terribly we can’t assume people are all like that.”