I chose to live in Bearwood because almost everything I needed was in walking distance including schools, a range of shops, green space, a library and a swimming pool. When I moved here about 25 years ago I could buy lovely bread from The Old Bakery, get almost every type of fruit and vegetable from Mike Drapers and meat from a number of butchers. We had a book shop, a music shop, a toy shop, a post office. Now most of them have gone. Slowly Bearwood is changing. Our high street like many others across the country is dominated by pawnbrokers, multiples, fast food and charity shops. And empty shops.
And I hardly noticed that this was happening.
Three things made me realise how bad it really was.
- I went around the world.
- I took part in the 4am project.
- I got involved with the Portas Pilot bid.
I had enjoyed vibrant neighbourhoods in Melbourne such as Brunswick, Armadale and in St Kilda I volunteered for Lentil as Anything. I visited fantastic markets with an amazing range of produce. Bearwood is closer to Birmingham than most of these Melbourne suburbs are to the CBD and equally well served by public transport, yet they each seem to be able to support a thriving and unique high street. They were social spaces where people met, worked and shopped.
I photographed Bearwood at 4 am and the bleakness of the high street at that time shocked me. Litter from the fast food outlets, lights flickering in empty shops and battered litter bins. This is Bearwood.
The Portas Pilot bid was an opportunity to transform the high street into one that reflected the community that lived in Bearwood. The vibrant, musical community who organise brilliant concerts in Lightwoods Park and Warley Woods. The crafty community who transform a church hall into a bunting strewn lively craft fair. A community that makes Bearwood a destination. A community full of hope and optimism.
And that was reflected in The Bearwood Blog post Has West Norwood got it right?
Yet somewhere along the line it has all gone horribly wrong. There is now a community hiding behind keyboards, determined to jump on any suggestion of an independent coffee shop where home workers could network. A community that believes that artisan bread and organic produce is not wanted ’round here’. A community that believes farmers market are a threat, not an opportunity. A community that doesn’t seem to want change. A community who wants it like it was when they were children back in the good old days. While I miss some of the old shops, I believe we have to look forward and not back if we are to bring the high street back to life. We need to be realistic that the high street is changing. And we can influence this change by developing a Neighbourhood Plan.
We need to capture aspirations and ambitions to ensure we all contribute to the function, liveability, economic advantages and environmental credentials of Bearwood. And I admit I have borrowed those words from here. They were good words! I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, just Bearwood.
- Plan to boost UK’s High Streets (bbc.co.uk)
- Far sickness Part One, or why some of the people in Bearwood are amazing (travellingcoral.wordpress.com)
- Is your High Street healthy? (premierlinedirect.co.uk)
- Independent retailers take high street fight back online (telegraph.co.uk)