”And you know just where you’ll be heading, it’s equidistant ‘tween London and Reading…Oh Slough, My kind of town, I don’t know how anyone could put you down.”
David Brent, the fictional manager from the BBC’s hit comedy The Office, loved it so much that he wrote his very own song of praise.
But as both the snap general election and longer-term Brexit loom, Slough symbolises the uneasy mood of Britain and its voters.
On several measures, the Berkshire town has been booming for years. It has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and is home to the largest number of global corporations outside London, hosting the HQs of firms such as Mars, Lego and Burger King.
It has impressive schools, coming in the top 10 GCSE results for England, and crime rates have fallen.
Transport links are superb, with both the M4 corridor, M40, M25 and Heathrow airport close to hand. The multi-billion pound Crossrail rail link is set to reduce even further the short journey time it takes to get into and out of London.
And yet this is a place that voted for Brexit (by 54% to 46%), just like much more impoverished towns across England, with its residents clearly keen on a new approach.
Some £12m in Government cuts to school budgets, under the Government’s new ‘national funding formula’, are the deepest of anywhere in the country and on a par with London. Nursery schools in particular face reductions of up to 50% in funding.
Ever since the 1920s, when spare land was turned into what was to become Europe’s biggest industrial estate, it has attracted migrants from across the UK and beyond.
The first wave was Welshmen, who literally walked all the way to find work in the Depression, founding ‘Little Rhondda’. Then came Scots and Irish and Indian and Pakistani communities, all drawn by the plentiful jobs.
Slough is the most ethnically diverse town in the UK outside the capital, with some 150 languages spoken, from Punjabi to Hindi, from Urdu to Polish.
The town has the highest proportion of Sikhs in the UK. In recent years, white British people have become a minority for the first time, with their numbers falling from nearly 70,000 in 2001 to 48,000 in 2011.
Polish migrants first arrived after the war and their deep roots have attracted even more since the country joined the EU. It’s an influx evidenced by the supermarkets and delis adverts that dot the rail station walls, overlooking the superfast express trains whooshing through from Wales and Bristol to London.
Even Crossrail, which will be known as the Elizabeth Line, has a downside: pushing housing prices even further beyond the reach of those on modest incomes. Prices rose by a staggering 22% in 2016 and are forecast to go up by 33% once the Crossrail station opens in 2019 – just in time for Brexit.
Taking advantage of the town’s status as a ‘Silicon Alley’ tech hub, as home to O2, McAffee and Nintendo, developers have pounced. In a converted former Fujitsu office building, claimed to be the inspiration for the BBC comedy show The Office, prices for a one-bedroom studio flat start at £199,000.
Private rented homes are also pricey, affordable public sector flats and houses in short supply, and both often overcrowded.
Teacher recruitment is suffering as the higher pay rates in London, combined with a lack of affordable housing locally, tempt younger staff away to the capital.
And while Brent’s fictional firm Wernham Hogg was a paper company meant to symbolise the dullness of office life, our focus group found that some Slough primary schools can’t even afford paper for pupils to write on. As Ricky Gervais’s character might say, that’s proof of Government cuts: Fact.