Saturday, 3 October 2009

Black History Month in Colchester

Reggae in the park. A music festival on the lawn of Hollytrees House. Built in 1718, when the slave trade from Africa to America is into its busiest century. Nearly two hundred and thirty years later, and Bob Marley is born. And now, almost three hundred years later, and there's a marquee pumping out reggae and dub. And that's why I like Colchester.

The doom-mongers are telling us our town centres are dead or dying, an inevitable process given the economic downturn, out of town shopping centres, the internet, and sixty-three other agents of change. So how come the town centre was so packed with shoppers today, with so mant people around I couldn't get to what I wanted in the shops? The coffee-houses had big queues, and the chazzers were busy too. It all looks like commerce is alive and well to me, although I guess the landowners can't command the rents they asked a few years ago. Who are these commentators that knock our old town centres? What criteria are they using when passing judgement on the success (or failure) of our towns?

I remember attending a meeting with local businessmen a few years ago, and they were bemoaning the number of charity shops in town. That's why I like Colchester, the wide range of businesses and attractions in the town centre, the market and the churches, the local characters hanging around, the buskers and the Big Issue sellers. That's why I don't go to homogenised soulless places like Freeport, Lakeside or Bluewater, to get 20% off last year's trainers.

The town centre's been around for a couple of thousand years, and it still has plenty of signs of life. I think it will adapt to the future. What will happen to the shopping malls over the next fifty years, given where we are on peak oil?

I won't pretend to be a Bob Marley fan, but I'm a Wailer for Colchester.

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