Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Shrinking Towns and Strange Trips

Dance of the Storm Lords by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.
Currently on show at the Atkinson Gallery in Southport is a small exhibition by Wirral Society of Arts members, which I enjoyed viewing on Saturday in the company of my sister Evelyn. There was also a photography exhibition which fused together new and old images of Southport, which was fun to see how the town had changed, plus a music-themed art exhibition, and a very small makers' market in the foyer.

We had lunch in one of Evelyn's favourite cafes, and she showed me a video of her new kitchen which looks fabulous - all pale and pristine. Then we ambled along Lord Street as we caught up on each other's news, and ended up sipping coffee somewhere; a lovely day.

Heading for home on a very crowded train, I sat opposite a middle-aged man who was smashed off his skull on skunk weed, or so he informed everyone within earshot. He continually jabbered about him being in great danger as the train might crash at any second and there were no seat belts.  He was yesterday's man, he said, listening to yesterday's music - and there was all this music whirling around inside his crowded head. He wanted to grow his hair like Frank Zappa's, or maybe he should grow a beard like an old, old man - like Gandalf! - because he was nearly old now so he might as well look the part, but he wouldn't have time to grow a beard now because the train might crash at any second....


The Naiad's Garden by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.

In the train station was a large poster advertising a new novel. It showed a picture of the front cover, and the blurb, spread out down the image, read: "Your son has been kidnapped. What would you pay to get him back? £4." Well, I thought it was funny, anyway.

Birkenhead Park Series; ink & watercolour sketch; 2018.
Southport has a lot of empty shop units even along Lord Street, its main commercial hub. It's the same in so many once-thriving towns. High rents, greedy business rates on both property and services, and competition from online retail, plus our dismal economy are obvious causes.

Constructive questions need to focus on solutions. Building new shop units seems pointless when perfectly good older ones have been empty for years already. We'd just be swapping old empty units for new empty units. Maybe we need to accept that town centres are shrinking as public needs change? All things change.

Birkenhead Park Series; ink & watercolour sketch; 2018.
Empty department stores could be renovated and turned into affordable one- and two-bedroom apartments to ease the housing crisis and help the construction industry's economy.

Many shop units are privately owned, so perhaps a change in the law might be considered, so that if a commercial unit has been empty for a year then it has to be sold and possibly re-purposed.

Or perhaps cheaper, short-term rental agreements might be made, so pop-up shops run by crafts-workers, artists or micro-businesses could make use of them?

I'm only bouncing ideas around, here. Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments section below.

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I've published several paperbacks and ebooks, and these can be read about by using the headline menu on my blog page.