Perspective: To Cross a Social Divide; in the Second Part of Our Series on the Working Classes, Caroline Foulkes Speaks to a Man Who Has Crossed the Divide from Working Class to Middle Class

Article excerpt

Byline: Caroline Foulke

Neville Carruthers always expected his life would take a certain pattern.

It should have happened like night follows day, like the sun rising in the morning. It should have been straightforward. But it wasn't.

He never bothered much about working hard at school. He knew he would go down the pit when he left, that there would be a job for life for him there.

'I remember going home one day and telling my dad that the careers officer had been into school to talk to us,' he says in a soft Stoke accent. 'And he just said, 'Oh well, you don't need to bother with that, you're going down the pit'.

'I finished school in the August and started in the pit in the September. I never questioned it. I was 16-years-old.'

Neville's 38 now. He wears a neatly ironed shirt and a matching tie. A smart pen stands to attention in his top pocket.

He doesn't work in the pit anymore. Because the pit isn't there.

In 1997 they blew the legs from under the huge A frame winding gear at Stoke's Hem Heath colliery. They blew away Neville's dreams of a job for life with it.

But the closure also gave him the impetus to push open doors he thought were shut to people from his background.

Now he works in management for a food production company, Perkins Food. A white collar job.

His old life, a working class life, is long gone. Neville now sees himself as middle class.

'I lived all my life in a council house. My family, my mum and dad and brothers and sisters, we were working class. I was brought up in a typical working class environment. The men went to work, came home, had their tea, went to the pub, went to the bookies and lost their money. I think that's why I don't do it now. My parents, I think, would still see themselves as working class.

'I'd say we're probably middle class, now, me, my wife and the two children. I've got a good job, in management, and I live in a nice house in a nice area.'

Neville's first job in the pit was as a haulage hand. Once he reached 18, he was faced with two choices - go to university then return to the pit at management level, or work his way up the ladder.

He chose to work his way up. 'My dad always said I would get more respect that way.'

At the age of 26, Neville became a colliery overman. Most people, he says, proudly, spend five to ten years working as a deputy before they achieve that post. It took him 12 months and two weeks.

He believes that his determination to get on, to achieve, is part of his class background, something he has carried across into his new life in the middle class.

'I think I still have a working class work ethic. Working class people have always strived for things, to make their lives better. You might work hard and save so you can have a new three-piece suite. And when you get it you sit there and think, 'I've worked hard for this, now I'm going to enjoy it.' 'The further up the class ladder you get, the easier it is to buy those things, and then you lose those traditional values.

'But I don't think you should ever forget where you come from.'

If the coal industry had survived, and Neville had progressed further, he would probably still be seen, by and large, as working class because of where he worked, regardless of whether he was in management or not.

Having seen manufacturing overtaken by service industries, he feels that the working class which he was part of has been consigned to history.

Whereas young men once went to work in the pit, they now go to work in call centres. …