In 1982 unemployment reached a peak of 3,070,621, representing 12.5 per cent of the working population. In some areas dominated by declining industries such as coal mining, it was much higher still.
As now, Torquay experienced high levels of joblessness. In response, Torbay Trades Union Council set up the Torquay Unemployed Centre in 1981 in the back office of the General & Municipal Boilermakers Union in Madepore Road. Run by unemployed volunteers, the centre offered advice and support to anyone who came through the door.
In 1983 the centre was awarded funding by the Government’s Community Programme initiative and relocated to a derelict community centre in Factory Row.
For the next three years the centre’s 10 workers supported the town’s jobless, homeless and disadvantaged with advice, cheap food, furniture and friendship. It was often the first port of call for the many workless people who came to the Bay from the north of England, Scotland and Wales.
In rejecting the stereotype of the unemployed as passive recipients of welfare, centre users campaigned against joblessness and worked together with other anti-poverty groups in the Cornwall and Devon Unemployment Resource Network and with the trades unions.
Unemployment declined through most of the 1990s and fell below one million for the first time since 1975 in March 2001. Now most Unemployed Centres have closed.
However, to quote the Trades Union Congress: “The reasons why the centres were set up have not gone away. The fight for full employment, against poverty and for social justice is as important today as it was in the 1980s.
“Job insecurity remains a key feature of the modern world of work. Unemployment remains a trade union issue, affecting people whether they are in work or not. Unemployment is still the greatest cause of poverty and permeates through all aspects of our communities.”
Now as joblessness seems likely to increase in Torquay here’s a few photos to remember Torquay’s unemployed activists of the past.
Torbay’s Mayor welcomes the 1983 Peoples March for Jobs