Back in the real world: how the rest of the country is coping a year on

LET ME tell you about two pieces of writing. The first, a sign in an independent wine shop in an expensive part of London which I regularly cycle past on my way to work. It reads: &ldquo;Just because we&rsquo;re in recession doesn&rsquo;t mean we have to drink bad wine.&rdquo;<br /><br />The second is a piece of graffiti on a wall in Leeds city centre. It bears the legend: &ldquo;We are now witnessing the death throes of capitalism&rdquo;. <br /><br />And there, in a nutshell, is pretty much all you need to know about this recession and its effect on Britain. The bounceback for many of the already affluent appears to have been as sharp as the nosedive. The contrition of the high-risk bankers lasted about as long as a hangover from a Merrill Lynch Christmas party. For most people, provided they are still in work, life is cheaper now than it was a year ago. <br /><br />And, as the Leeds graffiti suggests,, the extra knock the downturn delivered to those already close to the bottom of the pile was particularly painful. This has translated into visceral anger, sharpening social divides. We&rsquo;ve seen it expressed in the rows over Fred the Shred and MPs expenses. I&rsquo;m sure we&rsquo;ll see it again before long. <br /><br />The Leeds graffiti is wrong, of course. Sure, the collapse of Lehman triggered a meltdown in world markets. The global economy ceased to expand for the first time in 60 years. And the cost of the subsequent bailout programme is expected to reach &pound;1 trillion in a few years. But the death of capitalism? I think not. <br /><br />This year, taking Norman Tebbit&rsquo;s lead, I&rsquo;ve been on my bike touring the country and looking at how the recession has affected the UK. It&rsquo;s for a series on Sky News called The Economic Cycle. We&rsquo;ve just finished filming the latest part which sees me travel across the north from Liverpool to Cleethorpes in Yorkshire. <br /><br />And one of the first things that you notice &ndash; far from death throes &ndash; is the amazing adaptability and elasticity of capitalism. At the start of the year doomsaying became one of Britain&rsquo;s few growth industries. The recession was going to fundamentally change us, we were told. The downturn would bury the consumer society. We were entering a New Asceticism. <br /><br />But everywhere I&rsquo;ve been on my Economic Cycle leads me to think that the doomsayers missed the point. The boom years taught us one firm lesson: If you wanted something, it was your democratic and inalienable right to have it. Now. This logic applied to houses, holiday, cars and clothes. What was frightening about Lehman&rsquo;s collapse was that it killed off the already-fading notion of easy credit. <br /><br />But this idea &ndash; that to buy is to live &ndash; is so deeply entrenched that it would take more than a mere financial collapse to shift. What we&rsquo;ve seen is a 180 degree recalibration of the high street. Cheap is the new expensive. This territory is where the supermarkets now slug it out. Value ranges are the new premium lines. <br /><br />Our critical faculties, dulled by years of heavily-assisted spending, are incapable of comprehending the scale of the debt which has been created on our behalf in the last 12 months. We just don&rsquo;t want to know. But it is fair to say capitalism took a bit of a knock. So how are the green shoots? It&rsquo;s a mixed picture. The dark clouds appear to be lifting for some. But everywhere you go, you hear the same word: caution.<br /><br />Take Liverpool. The city built on the maritime industry has just had a enormous shot in the arm in the shape of the international shipping firm Maersk who have relocated their UK headquarters to the city. Their managing director Doug Bannister is whistling a cautious tune. <br /><br />He told me &ldquo;trade volumes have picked up a little bit from where we had thought they&rsquo;d be. Not great, but they&rsquo;ve picked up a little bit. Part of that has to do with general re-stocking rather than an actual demand-fuelled recovery. I think we&rsquo;re going to be in for some challenging times for another twelve or eighteen months.&rdquo; <br /><br />It&rsquo;s a theme echoed by the CBI. Damian Waters, the Institute&rsquo;s North West Regional Director told me: &ldquo;Most people I speak to would say that the patient&rsquo;s off the life support machine but they&rsquo;re still in intensive care.&rdquo; Elsewhere in Liverpool it&rsquo;s a more depressing picture. I took the bike down to Penny Lane which, despite its international fame, is in a fairly sorry state. Even the Sgt Pepper&rsquo;s Bistro has closed its doors.<br /><br />So what are people doing with their money? In Beverley, East Yorkshire is one of the UK&rsquo;s smallest financial institutions: the Beverley Building Society. One hundred and forty three years old, its one branch nestles discreetly in the main square of this ancient market town. The Society has 17,500 savers and 1,300 borrowers. They have just eight accounts in arrears. And since the big players ran into trouble, it&rsquo;s been thriving.<br /><br />&ldquo;When Bradford and Bingley and the Icelandic banks failed in October 2008, it was our best ever month for savers coming through our doors,&rdquo; says chief executive Phil Gray. &ldquo;Building societies like Beverley don't tend to borrow from other banks. So we never have what you might call a Northern Rock scenario. What we lend is what we take off our savers.&rdquo; <br /><br />We found a similar savings rush while filming down the road in Goldthorpe, south Yorkshire. By any indicator this has to be one of the poorest places in the country. Still struggling from the closure of the pit, this Recession has hit hard.<br /><br />On the town&rsquo;s modest high street, three of the five pubs are now boarded up and the star buy at the weekly market is two bottles of ketchup for a pound. <br /><br />But amid the economic misery, there is a success story &ndash; the Goldthorpe Credit Union. The Union acts as a bridge for those on benefit but without bank accounts. Money is paid straight into the Union, and then people queue to withdraw it. The Union has doubled its membership in the last 12 months and now has 6,000 people on its books.<br /><br />Like the Beverley Building Society the Union offers loans from money put aside by its savers. Typically, they charge &pound;75 for a loan of &pound;500. The going rate from the loan sharks which plague places like Goldthorpe? &pound;900.<br /><br />The Union&rsquo;s real success story is the Christmas Savings Club where members are invited to put something aside for the end of the year. It has been instilling the savings habit in people more used to debt than security.<br /><br />A trickledown effect of the global financial turmoil, perhaps? &ldquo;It&rsquo;s gone crazy,&rdquo; says Goldthorpe Credit Union boss Gail Foster. &ldquo;Everyone has wanted to join the Christmas savings club. We&rsquo;re only asking them to put a pound a week away but that&rsquo;s &pound;50 at Christmas. But loads of them are now putting away two or three quid a week&hellip; which is a lot of money when you have a child.&rdquo; <br /><br />And this could be the real legacy of Lehman&rsquo;s collapse. If a company too big to fail suddenly crumbles, there simply are no certainties any more. <br /><br />Dermot&rsquo;s Economic Cycle from Liverpool to Cleethorpes continues today and tomorrow (Tues/Wed 15/16 Sept) live on Sky News. And Dermot will be back in the saddle for The Mayor of London&rsquo;s Skyride this Sunday (20 September).