We Are Chesterfield: 'Lockdown has made people more friendly'
“Something that has come out of lockdown is that people seem a bit more friendly. I've been walking pretty much every day for the past year and I don't think I've ever come across anybody on the canal or Linacre Reservoirs or Poolsbrook Country Park who hasn't spoken as they've gone past,” said Mike Spriggs.
A lifelong resident of Chesterfield, Mike has met people from all walks of life, firstly as a teenage shopkeeper, then as a social worker in a profession where he worked until he was 71.
He said: “I’m a people person – I’ve always been interested in them.”
Alongside his work, Mike has always loved music and theatre. For the past decade the baritone bass singer has chaired Chesterfield Male Voice Choir where he has been a member for 12 years.
Mike is co-founder and director of Peak Performance and Peak Youth and sings in Dore Gilbert and Sullivan Society. In earlier years he performed with Chesterfield Gilbert and Sullivan Society and operatic societies in Matlock and Chesterfield.
He said: “I’ve always had a great wish to try and pass on any skills I’ve got. I do two sessions of Singing for the Brain for the Alzheimer’s Society at Dronfield and Shirebrook. It’s for people that have diagnosed Alzheimers; it's amazing, people who can’t put two words together can sing for half an hour I also do one for the Stroke Centre in Holmewood.”
Mike, 73, was a social worker for adult care in Chesterfield borough for three decades. He said: “I loved meeting people every day and I loved the challenge of trying to solve people’s problems whether it was welfare rights or housing issues. I did a lot of work with aid and adaptations, providing people with a stairlift or walk-in shower or anything like that. It was very interesting and I loved every minute of it.”
He was thrust into working life at the age of 16, taking over a grocery shop on Cordwell Avenue following the death of his father, Ted, who owned the business. Mike said: “I had just finished O-levels and was about to go into the sixth form. I wanted to go to university to study economics. I had no intention of going into the shop.”
But the loss of his dad meant Mike had to leave school and run the shop. His headmaster at Chesterfield Boys School told him to take a year out of education to sort out the shop and then think about returning. Mike said: “When you are 16 or 17 and you’ve got a bit of money in your pocket, you don’t think about school so much and I never went back. I like to say that I’ve been to the university of life.”
While Mike ran the shop in Newbold, his mum, Ivy, was running her own shop next to the Star Inn on Chatsworth Road. Mike said: "My mum stopped in her shop until 1971, she didn’t want to be defeated by decimalisation. I sold my shop in 1987 at a time when the big boys like Tesco and Sainsburys were coming into town.”
Looking back, Mike has fond memories of Chesterfield including his 21st birthday celebration at the Carlton Club on a night when The Searchers topped the bill, “soup in a basket” at the Aquarius nightclub and a time when the only takeaway food you could get in town was the pie and pea stall in the market place.
Asked why he has stayed in Chesterfield all his life, Mike said: “My mum and dad were Chesterfield people, I enjoyed the shop, I enjoyed the social work, my family were settled. I still see people in town that I’ve known from school, people who were solicitors, accountants or doctors who have stayed here. It was a generation thing, if you wanted to stop in a job for life, that’s what you did.”
Mike and his wife Sue have three children and four grandchildren between them.
Sue is founder of Purl One, Knit One, a core of six retired women from Wingerworth, who use their handicraft talents to help good causes. In the past 12 years, they have raised more than £32,000 to help organisations such as Ashgate Hospice, the Macmillan unit at Chesterfield Royal Hospital, Fairplay, Pathways, MS Society and Citizens Advice.
Products such as aprons, bags, cards and mittens have been made by the group and sold at the Spriggs’ home in Wingerworth. Last year, members of Purl One, Knit One hired a market stall in town for three days to sell their wares. Sue said: “We had a big push making face masks and despite it being a difficult year for us with lockdown, we raised the most money we have ever made and gave away £3,500.”
When asked whether he thought any improvements could be made to Chesterfield, Mike said: “We really need to make our entrances far more litter-free. You come off junction 29 and it’s diabolical. Between Lordsmill Street and Whittington Moor is just as bad and it’s even worse between Whittington Moor and Dronfield."
Mike believes that the town will emerge from lockdown stronger in some respects. He said: “I think there might be an upsurge in small independent businesses provided that the council looks at the rent policies favourably. We'll have to accept that you can't have a high street that's buzzing and online sales at the same time.”
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