TV review: ‘Simon Reeve’s Return to Cornwall’ (2023)

A couple of years after Simon explored the challenges faced by people living in Cornwall, he returns to see how the county is faring during the winter. As always with his programmes, it’s beautifully filmed and focuses on issues which need bringing to the nation’s attention. There are a few hopeful things but it’s really quite stark. This time, there were no environmental or climate change issues; it showed the effects of the cost of living crisis.

Simon Reeve's Return to Cornwall

Firstly, we catch up with Don at the food bank in Camborne. Donations flooded in after he was shown on TV the first time around, and now they are busier than ever. Don shows us a room filled with boxes which will be delivered to families for Christmas. At Newquay, hotel owner Pete explains that he has had to shut the place for the winter and lay off staff, something he has never done during his 35 years there, due to soaring energy prices. A family with three children is being housed in a hotel room rented by the council. Their landlord had sold up and they couldn’t afford a home in the area. The hotel is also where a charity, DISC, run by Monique, helps the local community access supplies, housing and today, Christmas presents. While Simon is there, a homeless man arrives and the charity gives him a tent, coat and shoes, and makes a phone call to find him a place indoors. Monique says that this winter has seen a shocking 90% increase in demand for the charity’s services.

Next, it is the New Year. “It can be hard to square the beauty of the country with the stories I’d heard,” Simon says, on a sunny day. He wants to find out why there is such poverty in Cornwall. He heads to a farm, where it’s perfect weather for cauliflower, says farmer David. After having a go at harvesting cauliflower, Simon meets the workers, who are all from Tajikistan. They have no jobs there in the winter so come over to the farm on six month visas. David says that the local people aren’t interested because they would rather do less strenuous jobs, although he is offering good pay. Shipping workers in from overseas is clearly not going to solve the problems of housing and low pay in Cornwall.

Tourism and hospitality is a huge industry for Cornwall. Simon visits the grand Headland Hotel outside Newquay. Post-Brexit, they are employing local people rather than relying on EU workers. During the winter, they are training the staff and have adapted the employment conditions to be more inclusive. Ethan, who has disabilities, is learning to make barista coffee and is full of praise for his employment at the hotel, which has transformed his life. Moving on, we arrive at the Pendennis boatbuilders at Falmouth Harbour. They are a successful company building and repairing superyachts. The owner Mike is focused on hiring and training local people rather than expertise from abroad. Apprentices are a huge reason for the company’s success. Simon meets an apprentice, Millie, who says she was really pushed to go to university but apprenticeship was a better option. On a visit to Cornwall College, Simon has a tour of the campus and wonders why technical education loses out to the academic route, when the practical skills are needed.

Mousehole is the next location, a place that is rammed in the summer but in the winter is quite empty. Many houses in Cornwall are holiday lets, pricing local people out of the market. The solution could be to build more homes. Simon stands in a field where a planning application to build affordable homes for local people was turned down. He says that the government has a poor record on meeting their own targets for building houses. We are shown a row of solar house units built in a council car park. Each unit is ready for someone to move into, even with items such as oven gloves provided. This could be one solution to the housing crisis, especially as so many young people in particular can’t afford to rent.

Simon catches up with some people he first met. Monique says that homelessness has increased with the change of season, as people who rent in winter are told to vacate to prepare for the summer crowd. Meanwhile, the young family living in a hotel has still not been found accommodation. Simon ends the programme by saying that the housing crisis is hitting the next generation hard and eroding faith in the economy, going so far as to call it a self-inflicted wound.

If you have access to BBC iPlayer, this programme is available for 1 year.

Leave a Reply