By Ryan Dilley
BBC News Online
According to the latest census, Aireborough in West Yorkshire is the most "average" place in England and Wales. With so many aspects of their lives matching national averages, the locals might even be thought of as extraordinarily... ordinary. What's that like?
Brian Meays says locals want more than plain bangers
"I got into organised crime. All around the world. China. Japan, you know, the Yakuza. Then I got into drugs," says Aireborough resident Eddie Carter.
Such raciness in Average Town? No. The pensioner holds up his latest loans from the local library. That he can indulge his interest in the seamy extremes of the world outside Aireborough amid this library's bookshelves is one of the joys of living here, he says.
"It's about the same as places I've seen up and down the country, but to my mind, you couldn't improve Aireborough. There are some more beautiful towns - out in the middle of nowhere - but my wife once hurt her foot in one of those places and it was 80 miles to the nearest hospital."
The story of Mrs Carter's injured foot seems to sum up Aireborough's status as the most average place in England and Wales. Other towns may have pluses, but don't forget the minuses.
Aireborough - a district in the north-west suburbs of Leeds, comprising the leafy villages of Yeadon and Guiseley - is the phrase "could be better, could be worse" given physical form.
At BBC News Online's behest, the Office of National Statistics trawled though data from the 2001 Census and picked this ward out as the one which matches the averages for age, ethnicity, religion, marriage, home and car ownership across the 8,000 or so other wards.
"Being called 'average' is a bit of an insult, I suppose," says Nick Dogramadzi, who came to Aireborough from the former Yugoslavia - a place of greater extremes, one imagines.
Aireborough was selected as the most average ward from over 8,000 in England and Wales using data from the 2001 census.
It was ranked as the most average, with reference to six criteria: age, home ownership, car ownership, religion, ethnicity and marital status.
Median values were used for all the calculations - meaning that the averages are based on statistics from each of the wards, and not the mean average of the national figures for the whole of England and Wales at once.
Others disagree. "I'd say it was nice to be average. I love it," says Beverley Lomax, who has brought her family here from another district she says was blighted by drugs and crime.
But is being average the same as being middling, boring, dull or lukewarm? Or is it solid, reliable, predictable and familiar? Or, more likely, somewhere in between?
Walking the streets of Aireborough, one finds it impossible to imagine that anyone from another town in England or Wales would feel even the slightest culture shock coming here.
It has the shops and amenities common to any bustling High Street, but green hills can be glimpsed rising up behind the buildings.
In Aireborough's residential streets, the cars are presentable, but not too flash - exactly like the York sandstone houses they drive past.
You don't feel as if you are about to be jumped by a gang of toughs, just as you don't fear being asked to move along for lowering the tone of the neighbourhood.
Local butcher Brian Meays says that his customers want something a bit more than a plain pork sausage these days, but amid his array of homemade bangers there's nothing arrestingly exotic either.
But what use is all this normality?
"What happens here, seems to happen everywhere else," says resident Shaun Gallagher.
This simple statement points to a tantalising opportunity for anyone wishing to take the temperature of the nation - Aireborough could be a microcosm of the entire country.
The hunt for such a place is nothing new. In the 1947 Hollywood film Magic Town, pollster James Stewart secretly set up shop in a place called Grandview whose inhabitants had the uncanny ability to predict national opinion exactly.
Stewart's scheme - which saved the pollster the expense of phoning people across the US - ended in disaster when the townspeople discovered their guinea pig status and found the burden of being a national barometer too onerous, causing them to reconsider their once casually given opinions.
"It's not so ridiculous," says Simon Atkinson, research director with Mori polling.
"James Stewart blitzed one town because it was cheaper than phoning across the country, but today it's actually more expensive to conduct face-to-face interviews in one place, but we might still use somewhere like Aireborough to test products and consult focus groups."
AIREBOROUGH V THE AVERAGE
Religion as Christian: 75.79% (Ave. 77.63%)
Ethnic white British: 96.45%
No car or vans: 21.92% (Ave. 19.28%)
Owner occupied homes: 77.23% (Ave. 74.66%)
Married or remarried: 54.72% (Ave. 55.39%)
Mean age: 39.84 (Ave. 39.75%)
So what titbits can be gleaned from Aireborough which might apply to England and Wales as a whole?
"Ivory is still the colour for wedding dresses here," says local wedding planner Anne Western. "But it's all slimline dresses, none of these meringues."
"Steaks are the biggest seller," says butcher Brian Meays. "I have also noticed that more fellas are coming in to do the family shopping."
"Three-bed semis are our biggest sellers," says estate agent Charlotte Lamb. "Most clients are young families, since first-time buyers are being priced out of the market."
So what are the pressing concerns of the local people? What should Messrs Blair, Duncan Smith and Kennedy be addressing? "Crime," says Shaun Gallagher. "Drug abuse," says local GP Dr Makham Thakur. "Traffic congestion," says Eddie Carter.
Of course, some of the opinions held in Aireborough make for less comfortable listening.
"The best thing about living here is that everyone's white," says one woman [the actual figure is 96.45%]. "In Bradford, it's all Asian and they make the place dirty."
Do you know any non-white people, personally? "Well, no. Not around here."
Add your comments on this story:
I live in Otley now but used to live in Guiseley and am shocked by this outragously racist comments from one Aireborough resident. Just to set the record straight, not all Aireborough residents are racist and I hope this was the only one you found, although I wish you could have printed her name so as to public shame her.
I have to disagree that Guiseley is average. Any town that can spawn and nurture raw talent like The Grumbleweeds cannot be average in my opinion.
Helen , UK
I am a resident of Aireborourgh, Yeadon to be exact. I don't think that there is much average about living in Aireborough. It is a fantastic town. There is very little crime and it is reasonably safe. I would just like to express my feelings about the comment on Asian people. My boyfriend who I live with is Asian and we live in the "Averagetown." I must admit he does feel a minority living here and comments like the one you have published do not help. I do not think that this comment should have been published at all as it just adds to the opinion of all of the narrow minded people out there.
As the ward boundaries look set to change next year, Aireborough will no longer be average!
Debbie, Otley, W. Yorks
I have lived in Aireborough for the last 20 years. I have never met a more integrated community. The old towns of Guiseley and Yeadon are a safe environment for everyone. The area does have its problems but they normally get resolved locally by local people working together. I feel that we are an example of integration irrespective of race, religion and anything else you may want to push our way.
C. E Jackson, Yeadon, Aireborough, West Riding of Yorkshire
Aireborough's days of normality are numbered. "By observing something you change it" according to the old(ish) maxim.
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