March 11, 2008

The North / South Divide?

Ian Forrester was at BarCamp Manchester the other week, and in his write-up wonders why he encountered some hostility to Southerners. I can't claim to speak for my fellow Northerners, but thought I'd offer my thoughts on the subject.

First off, I'm not sure that it's a North/South divide, but more of a The Provinces/London divide, and we're just being lazy ourselves by equating London with the South.

Serendipitously, Nick Robinson's latest blog post highlights the issue quite neatly. It's an article about celebrating Britishness, and the photo chosen depicts a Routemaster bus, black cab and the Houses of Parliament. I don't know what image I'd choose instead, but it shows the default London-centric view that's used as shorthand for English or British. We have black cabs in the North, but not Routemasters, and I was ten before I first saw the Houses of Parliament in person. And in the ten years after that I think I saw them again once.

Some of the tension is jealousy, as there's lots of interesting stuff going on in London, most of which is completely inaccessible. From Cambridge it's quite possible to head into London for Mobile Monday, or the London Geek Dinners, but any further away and it becomes a major mission.

London also seems to be the de facto location for any bigger event or conference. The argument being that there are a lot of people already there and the transport links are much better. Which they are, because the roads and railways are all skewed towards the capital. The North-West is at least lucky enough to have a couple of motorways that run across the country rather than towards London.

People in London don't want to travel to events, but expect the rest of the country to come to them. Obviously this is a broad generalisation (and can't be levelled at Ian because he travelled up to Manchester), but when Geoff organised the OurSocialWorld conference in Cambridge it was a struggle to get enough people to attend, and that's day trippable from London. What chance do events further afield have?

For people of my generation and older there's also the hangover from the 80s. This is my least rational reason, but watching huge chunks of the employment and prosperity of the region disappear with the death of heavy industry was painful. Whilst I don't think the government should have propped up industries that were no longer viable, the Thatcher government's "get on your bike" and move down South attitude, coupled with the in-your-face materialism of yuppies in the city didn't help.

Again, these are just my perceptions and thoughts, and I'm interested in hearing what other people - Northern, Southern, Scottish... whatever - think about the issue. I'm not sure I can articulate what I want people to do differently, if anything. Maybe just consider how easy it is (or isn't) for people to get to your event if you're aspiring for national reach. Or just to continue to support events that are being held outside London. I understand that if you live in London you aren't necessarily going to want to organise something miles away from home.

I'm trying to help make a difference by moving back to the North West this summer. So if anyone is looking to arrange something in the area and wants some help, please get in touch and I'll do what I can to assist.


Posted by Adrian at March 11, 2008 03:15 PM | TrackBack

This blog post is on the personal blog of Adrian McEwen. If you want to explore the site a bit further, it might be worth having a look at the most recent entries or look through the archives or categories over on the left.

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