Census and sensibility

Blackpool and Wyre census area manager Sally Taylor
Blackpool and Wyre census area manager Sally Taylor
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Sally Tayor from St Annes knows how tough life is in 2011. She’s been made redundant twice in the last 12 months, first from a council post, then as a charity worker.

“It knocks you for six when it happens,” she admits. “I’m still in shock.”

So when the same fate befalls your husband, he’s trying to get a new business off the ground and the house is full of half-finished tasks because the money just isn’t coming in with any regularity any more, you know that times have changed.

They have certainly changed in the 10 years since the last census and Sally is the first to admit that this year’s National Census has been a “lifesaver” – for it’s enabled her to land a part-time job as area census manager for Blackpool and Wyre and get some cash coming back in.

It’s a role she relishes, heading an army of collectors, the squads who will go door-to-door raising awareness and collecting the forms that haven’t been returned. They will venture into areas which have changed in the past decade, particularly given the rise in social deprivation, transience, immigration, multiple occupation, unemployment and allied issues in health and welfare.

“This is one of the most valuable exercises I will have ever carried out,” admits Sally. “And it couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I am enjoying every minute of it – and driving my husband mad in the process.”

Her work has already started, establishing inroads into organisations like Age Concern and the Salvation Army among others, reaching some of those who may be living on the fringe of society, feel disenfranchised from the process, or simply disinclined to complete an awesomely comprehensive census.

She’s also met with frontline services for further insight into the make-up of the Fylde coast.

The modern census is steeped in history, which is why it’s such a boon to researchers, historians, and genealogists.

It was introduced in 1801, although the first thorough survey of England was in 1086 when William the Conqueror ordered the production of the Domesday Book. Governments of every era have recognised the need to collect information on their most valuable asset – their people. From the Babylonians to the Chinese, the Egyptians to the Romans, censuses have been taking place for millennia.

This year for the Brits, marks the very first time we’ve been able to complete the census online, although we must wait for the document to arrive in our household, in order to apply our identity. Of course, we can also fill it in the customary way.

The impressively detailed questionnaire arrives next month. Census day proper is March 27. It makes sense to complete the census, for this is the one document we and future generations can rely upon for the most comprehensive account of life in our times. Family historians swear by it. Councils use it to help calculate their case for funding or target resources.

The first official census of England and Wales was held in March 1801, information collected from every household by the ‘Overseers of the Poor’ (churchmen or landowners), aided by constables, tithingmen (who oversaw enforcement of the Sabbath), and headboroughs (chief officers of the borough). It was taken because it was feared Britain’s growing population (around nine million) would exceed its turnip stock!

The census taken in 1841 is widely regarded as the first truly modern census, as the head of each household replied on behalf of everyone within, on a certain day. It’s this format which has stood the test of time.

Another (in 1921) looked at specific traffic pressures as people were more mobile, the 1951 census highlighted housing needs, and so on.

Back in April. 2001, the response rate, locally, was 96 per cent, says Sally, but today’s challenges could see that fall, as more are wary of bureaucracy.

“It’s reckoned that the rate falls by one per cent each year so that could be 86 per cent this year but we’re getting the word out that people have nothing to fear,” Sally explains. “We’re not snoopers; there’s no hidden agenda. The statistics are used by a range of organisations from local authorities to charities, the commercial sector and academics.”

The 2011 Census questionnaire includes 14 questions about the household and 43 questions about the individual (language spoken, food, car ownership, work habits and health).

As for local life last time out? The census was on a Sunday, but The Gazette of the day before reveals the super casino was hot news, along with foot and mouth, licensing laws and pensioners marching for better pensions. Mortgage rates were the lowest in 35 years and you could buy a house on St Vincents Avenue, Marton, for £72,950. Today a similar house there is on sale at £169,950.