Ben Roberts is a talented photographer based in Madrid, Spain who was sent on assignment by the Financial Times Weekend Magazine to photograph people and places in and around Rugeley. A former coal mining town, Rugeley has struggled during the UK’s current recession, with high unemployment being a particular problem. The arrival of Amazon to occupy a huge warehouse in the town was originally seen as being a boost to the local economy, but has it turned out that way?
As online shopping explodes in Britain, helping to push traditional retailers such as HMV out of business, more and more jobs are moving from high-street shops into warehouses like this one. Under pressure from politicians and the public over its tax arrangements, Amazon has tried to stress how many jobs it is creating across the country at a time of economic malaise. The undisputed behemoth of the online retail world has invested more than £1bn in its UK operations and announced last year that it would open another three warehouses over the next two years and create 2,000 more permanent jobs. Amazon even had a quote from David Cameron, the prime minister, in its September press release. “This is great news, not only for those individuals who will find work, but for the UK economy,” he said.
People in Rugeley, Staffordshire, felt exactly the same way in the summer of 2011 when they heard Amazon was going to occupy the empty blue warehouse on the site of the old coal mine. It seemed like this was the town’s chance to reinvent itself after decades of economic decline. But as they have had a taste of its “jobs of the future”, their excitement has died down. Most people are still glad Amazon has come, believing that any sort of work is better than no work at all, but many have been taken aback by the conditions and bitterly disappointed by the insecurity of much of the employment on offer.