I live in a small town. Well, it used to be a small town. According to the 2011 census we had 6,429 residents registered (in 2001 there was 5,212). This number keeps rising.
However, our amenities keep dwindling.
Why? Well I have a theory. Until recently I was primarily a stay-at-home mum. I shopped on the High Street, I used all three of the banks in town and the Post Office most weeks.
In the last year we have lost a major bank, and about to lose a second (the cost to lease certain properties in town is huge in comparison to the footfall and trade), and the third changed allegiances when Lloyds and TSB parted ways again. The cost to lease a property in town is huge. We have also lost our weekly market. This is not good for a market town first given its charter in 1251.
Now I work out of town, like a majority of the residents, I commute to work. I spend my time elsewhere and spend my money in the equally small town that I work in.
Somehow we have a myriad of hairdressers, and shops that deliver pizza. Two Indian restaurant/takeaways and two Chinese takeaways. The Indians and Chineses don't deliver. Now then what other delights does our High Street have to offer?
Six pubs, 3 cafes, 2 butchers (soon to become one), 2 clothes shops, 7 hairdressers, 3 beauticians, 1 carpet shop, 1 sweet shop, 1 DIY shop, 2 charity shop (one is a chain, the other a local shop for local people), 3 gift shops, 2 florists, 1 fruit and veg shop, 3 estate agents, 2 legal firms, the paper shop, 1 chemist, 3 supermarkets and a few other small concerns. We are lucky that we have a varied high street. However we have units standing empty. The shops we do have are struggling, the number of people down the high street are lower than they ever have been before.
There is little or no work for people in town, and those who work in the cities on either side spend the majority of their time their and do their shopping online.
Did you notice that there was no where apart from pubs to go and blow off steam. Once the lights go down, the town essentially dies. There is no cinema, no family restaurants - or indeed nowhere to sit down for a meal that isn't Indian.There is a lawn bowling club and a lawn tennis club, but that is essentially all. Functions are rare, those that are there are again either in a pub - in the form of a band. We do have a good range of music in a number of the pubs. But if you want something different its a case of driving 20+ miles to do it.
Our nearest swimming pool is either 9 or 13 miles away. Our nearest bank is either 9, 13, or 22 miles away.
We are losing our sense of community. There are still some old guard left, but they don't like change. Sadly, change is coming whether they like it or not.
Some try to bring new ideas in. Those ideas are often shot down, either due to a lack of interest, communication or just apathy thinking 'ah, someone else will sort it'.
This could lead to us losing so much more than another bank. We could lose our identity. As we become bigger more crime is occurring, more cars on the road, less care taken for our neighbours. The MTV generation want everything now and just how they want it.
Twenty years ago you wouldn't have been seen arriving at school in a car. Ten years ago it was still rare. Now there are cars everywhere, and they arrive up to 45 mins before the start or home-time. Primarily these are residents in the town. My home town is barely 2 miles long from end to end. So it baffles me why so many cars appear. Not all of them live out of range of the school buses.
Another road in my town has had a shift in their traffic flow too. Our doctor's surgery was stretched with the rapidly growing patient list, unable to extend further where they already were they have built a brand new surgery with pharmacy. It isn't anywhere close to being as accessible as the old surgery, and at present the traffic is winging it's way down a road that was designed to be a cul-de-sac. This has been a shock to those residents. At least when I moved in I was aware that I would have a high level of traffic at school times. This year has been worse than in the previous 14 I have been at my property, and worse than I can ever remember as I grew up with my grandparents living on this street too.
What we do need to do is talk to each other.
Respect each other.
Take a risk, try something new.
Support our local businesses. We are in the danger zone of being full of lego-fit shops with global brands and no significant identity at all.