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Artwork by Patrick DolanMore Information

Empty Spaces…What Are We Living For?

Excuse the rather dramatic title, I’ve been listening to dear old Freddie whilst writing up these thoughts on the ever changing face of Nottingham City Centre and, I suppose, couldn’t help putting two and two together.

The recession is affecting us all, so they say, the High Street is changing; words such as ‘regeneration’ are banded around without ever really getting to grips with what, exactly, is being regenerated.  And, unfortunately, such is true of Nottingham’s rather beautiful city centre.  Everywhere you look, amongst the traditional architecture boasted by the city, in between the beautiful fountain springs of the Market Square; there lies telling tales of businesses lost, hidden behind the dark eyes of light-less windows and boarded up doors.  Rumour has it, even Brian Clough’s statue has taken to wearing lipstick to brighten things up a little.

Up until recently, I worked as a manager for a high street store in Nottingham’s centre.  Nestled along Bridlesmith ‘the posh street’ Gate, I had the pleasure of staring at an ever gloomy ‘Roast It’, now closed, after many many incarnations and only brought back to life when it was featured as part of the ‘12 Windows of Christmas’ installations back in 2012.  It was a glimpse of what the shop could be, now it’s back to being a pale reminder of what had been.  A gaping hole amongst the companies and global conglomerates that have, so far, ‘made it through’.

So what does this mean for consumerism on our High Street?  Without wanting to get political, the majority of customers I used to serve were somewhat dictated by the yo-yo use of the word ‘recession’.  The slightest price increase, a removal of a bulk-buy offer, even a product out of stock would send them into sheer panic, ‘sign of the times isn’t it’, ‘does this mean you’re closing?’  Overreacting to the slightest change in their idea of weekly normalcy, maybe, but perhaps it’s just because they’ve seen it all before, Jessops and Comet were gone within weeks of each other with little to no notice, why would it not happen to another High Street regular brand?  And those gaping holes in our city centre?  Cruel reminders that nothing endures, but change.

Consumerism, it has to be said, cannot always be looked at with such negative eyes.  Dilapidation in parts of our city does not necessarily paint a true picture of Notts as a whole.  Hockley, to name one place, is still thriving with its go-to places for vintage, home-made food and other nick-nacks.  Walking through Hockley, there are still gems to be discovered along the winding roads and slip ways that make up the ‘vintage’ and independent heart of the city.  It seems to me, as a dweller in the ever up-and-coming Sherwood that perhaps this change in consumerism is also bringing communities together.  Most days there is something of the ‘bustle’ about Sherwood with its regular charity shops, newly-sprung eateries, not to mention a menagerie of small businesses and creative people, creating small communities to support one another in their ventures and crafts.  If Sherwood is so appealing to these communities, there must be pockets elsewhere across the city of people who, sick of the city centre, want to try and devote their time and money into something new and off the beaten track.  As I sit, reassessing everything in my life, these are certainly communities I enjoy being a part of, integrating into and, with any luck, developing my own stamp on Nottingham and on all I believe it has to offer a consumer or anyone with a bright idea.

One of the last conversations I had before I left to go on maternity leave was with a regular customer, questioning price changes and such like.  ‘You’re still here then,’ she said, with a hint of both sarcasm and surprise.  I replied that we were still going strong and that, perhaps, the sudden changes we are seeing in the High Street may actually be a good thing for the so-called rejuvenation of the city in the future.  Perhaps, just perhaps, it will give small businesses and smaller, conscientious communities the opportunity to thrive again.  Holes in the city there may be but I maintain a strong belief that when one particularly large door closes, a window opens and that Nottingham may well be leading where others are soon to follow.