Grantham's getting old - but what future for its young?

The market town of Grantham is home to 41,000 people.

Unemployment here is well below the national average, the atmosphere genteel.

It's increasingly a place to grow old. There are currently 8,151 pensioners in the town, and the numbers are rising, with half as many 16 - 24 year-olds.

The most recent census showed the numbers of thirty-somethings in the town is falling.

It's also a place with good schools and further education colleges, and the local grammar school in particular gives the community an aspirational outlook.

It is the school which educated a young Margaret Thatcher, and it appears to produce well behaved and earnest young people who walk the town's streets wearing the blazers and carrying the satchels of bygone days.

Roberts cornershop in Grantham was owned by Margaret Thatcher's parents. Credit: PA

This then is a good stop on the Great North Road to look at how the recession is impacting on the different generations of Middle England - particularly as the local MP, Nick Boles, recently questioned the right of all pensioners to enjoy universal benefits in the current economic climate when savings have to be made by all.

After all, many baby boomers also enjoyed generous company pension schemes and jobs for life the like of which will never be seen by their grandchildren.

First though, I talked to the young.

Nineteen-year-old Bethan Johnson is one of the 755 town leavers from Grantham heading off to university this year.

Despite the introduction of the student loans, numbers are up on last year.

Bethan's going to London and she and her parents are worried about the costs that will involve and about her future chances of employment and housing in a shrinking economy.

"I think for my generation it's tough and its about to get a lot tougher, " she says.

Bethan Johnson packs for university. Credit: ITV News

At the nearby premises of Totemic, one of the town's main employers, many of the young staff would agree. Totemic is a debt management company and is thriving in the present economic conditions.

They are currently helping 100 families in the town manage their debts (usually mortgages) because unforeseen trouble has made payments difficult to maintain.

But few who work here are property owners. House prices are too high, lending restrictions too tight.

First time buyers in Grantham tend to be Eastern Europeans working and saving hard at the local chicken packing factory, or investors who buy to rent.

Lettings are a growing market here for a generation who face property prices which remain high relative to earnings.

Totemic is a financial services firm which helps people struggling with debts. Credit: ITV News

Nationally, the average age of first time buyers is rising - in some areas its now 40 and as a result, the statistics tell us behaviour is changing too.

More people are delaying starting a family and the trend is for households to become smaller.

Generally since 1995, increases in earnings have not kept pace with rises in house prices and lending to FIrst Time Buyers in 2011 was 42% of the levels seen in 2007.

Some Government support is available via the First Buy Scheme/Home Buy Scheme to address what is widely seen as a generational inequality.

But not by everyone. Eighty-three-year-old David Spearman managed to buy seven cottages when times were good in the1970s.

David Spearman, left, shows Penny Marshall the cottages he owns. Credit: ITV News

He made his money working a fleet of ice cream vans. Now a great grandfather, he's lived through the booms and the busts, investing in property when it was more affordable than it is for today's youngsters.

But he has little time for the claims that today's youngsters have it tougher than he did. His success, he says, was down to hard graft and saving. He left school at 14, and the rest was decades of hard work.

"Going without was part of getting on," he says. "Something today's work-shy generation know nothing about."

Down at the bowling club that view is echoed by the pensioners passing the afternoon in a competitive match.

There's sympathy for their grandchildren who work hard and can't afford homes, but contempt for the others - far too many others in their view - who don't know the meaning of hard work and saving.

They are more worried about standards of care in their old age, although some concede they have benefited from past economic boom times too.

One tells me: "We baby boomers have stolen our grandchildren's money."

They certainly have enjoyed property prosperity which their grandchildren are unlikely to enjoy unless economic growth returns.

Bethan Johnson knows that - that's why she's anxious. But she isn't the first young woman to grow up in Grantham and overcome hardship.

"Every generation has its obstacles," says Mr Spearman. "This generation needs to do more for themselves. Things aren't as bad here as they think they are and if they'd seen what we have seen they'd know it's just about re adjusting to fit the times. It's about living within their means."

But today's school leavers have never known anything but plenty until this recession hit, and they have very different expectations to their baby booming grandparents.

More in the Great North Road series: