Yorkshire’s young people are abandoning towns and villages in favour of cities, leaving behind a rapidly ageing population. Lindsay Pantry spoke to one pensioner to see how he was coping with the area’s changing demographic.
Bill Mulroe is busier than ever.
Now 75, he runs two charity shops for the cancer fund he manages, takes patients across the country to their medical appointments, and has raised more than £1.75m for hospital equipment in Pontefract, Wakefield and Dewsbury.
In his own words, he refuses to “sit at home and wait for the inevitable”.
He is one of thousands of over 65s defying stereotypes of older people, and keeping the charitable sector in Yorkshire going.
“I’m a massive believer that people should find something to focus on, even if it’s just half a day a week - or in my case six and a half days a week,” he said.
Mr Mulroe, who was last year awarded the British Empire Medal for dedicating more than 25 years to charity work, is vice-chair of the Dr Jackson Cancer Fund, which is based in Pontefract and works with hospitals across the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust area. His role recently broadened after the fund, which started in 1977, opened two charity shops in Hemsworth and Featherstone. He opens and closes both stores daily, while balancing organising the charity’s team of volunteer drivers, transporting patients to and from hospital himself, and running all of the fund’s admin duties - including running tombolas and fundraisers.
Mr Mulroe said: “My day starts by calling at Featherstone to prepare the shop for the volunteers, before going to Hemsworth to open the shop. Usually I’m there all day, before coming back to Featherstone to cash up.
“I still do my bit of driving when I can fit it in because that’s what I really enjoy, dealing with the patients. Sometimes the phone will ring at 9.30pm and it’s the hospital, asking if we can help a patient get home. I often get asked by the sister, ‘what time do you finish work?’ and I will answer, ‘what time do people stop getting ill?’
“Last year, up until Christmas, I was taking a lady from Normanton to the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea where she was taking part in a drugs trial. For a 9am appointment, I was up at 4am and finished at 10pm.”
It is this dedication that saw him honoured by the Queen last year for services to charity and community.
Mr Mulroe threw himself into charity work after he lost his 25-year-old son Shaun, who was serving in the army as a member of the Royal Dragoon Guards, in 1992.
Alongside his wife Lesley and their daughters Gillian and Joanne, Mr Mulroe has so far raised more than £14,000 for servicemen.
In his home town of Featherstone, he has served as secretary at the local working men’s club, chaired the town’s Labour Party branch, worked with the local housing association on neighbourhood planning, was elected to the town council and served as mayor between 2011 and 2012. He was also a school governor for 10 years.
“I still enjoy my constitutional two pints on a Sunday afternoon at Featherstone Working Men’s Club, but I daren’t have any more than that as I never know when I’ll be needed,” he said.
“For me, volunteering is my way of giving back. I came out of two brain operations 15 years ago for cerebral abscesses, and recovering from that, I wanted to show I could still do things rather than just sitting at home. Coming from a mining town, you saw people retiring from the pit and spending the rest of their days in the Working Men’s Club.
“I think it’s absolutely brilliant that after retirement, you can pay something back to society and help people who are worse off than you.”
Devolution is the answer to Yorkshire’s ageing population, MPs have suggested, as new figures show that young people are abandoning towns and villages.
The figures, by our sister title, The Yorkshire Post and Centre for Towns, reveal that while the county’s population is expected to grow by six per cent over the next 20 years, the population of over-65s is predicted to increase by 42 percent in the same period.
Young people are following jobs and opportunities to cities, abandoning towns and villages for a more urban lifestyle. Over-65s are expected to account for less than a third of the population of metropolitan areas.
The Centre for Towns’ Lisa Nandy, MP for Wigan, said that the ageing population accounted for many problems experienced towns, including declining high streets, growing loneliness and sluggish local economies.
Conservative and Labour MPs have joined voices to call for a One Yorkshire devolution deal, which unlike the Greater Manchester devolution deal would give power to towns and villages as well as cities.
They also called for better transport links and educational standards, which they believe would give young people an incentive to return to villages and towns.
The Express is exlporing how an ageing population is affecting towns and villages across the county.