I visited West Bromwich on Tuesday this week and after one very happy bus journey (to be a future post) I met a friend at The Public. This Arts Centre is under threat of closure and I wanted to show my support by actually visiting and not just tweeting about it. I also wanted to show my friend the Central Library as it is a stunning building. We were also taking some photos for the 365 Project. You can see my photos here and my friends here. The last and certainly least reason for the visit was to see New Square.
The imaginatively named New Square is in my humble opinion a Tesco
vanity we are the big boys and we want that land project, with a massive supermarket, an Odeon Cinema, some other chain stores and the promise of more mixed retail come. It is also adjacent to The Public which when built caused much controversy as it was bringing art to a community who wanted a cinema and a swimming pool. West Bromwich didn’t want art. It seems the council doesn’t either. Indeed one of my tweets about the matter was
@_the_public @tom_watson sandwell doesn’ t value the arts, it might create aspiration
I may have been a little bit harsh. Or I may have hit the nail on the head. Either way the reaction to the announcement of its closure has made the local MP wade in
News: MP Tom Watson calls on council to find solution for The Public http://bit.ly/148pJG0 #Sandwell
And this from The Leader of the Council http://sandwellleader.org/
After a lot of hard work, a change of management and apparently a 30k subsidy per week (what can that be spent on?) Sandwell Council have now said they will not subsidise The Public after November 2013. The Public struggled to get visitors in the past, and one of the main reasons was that it had very little footfall due to its location. It introduced a range of activities for the whole community, including Tea Dances, a film club, some unique exhibitions and has featured work by Tracy Emin. It has a cafe which on the day I was there was full of people of all ages.
Footfall is no longer an issue as it is now on New Square opposite the cinema, coffee shops and restaurants. After years of subsidy, it is now the council want to close it and turn it into a sixth form centre. This makes no sense to me and many others, finally The Public is bang in the centre of a well marketed ‘entertainment destination’. A multi million pound investment has been made in West Bromwich for Sandwell College, so why do they need to convert The Public into a sixth form?
That aside, this new development has effectively shifted the town centre to gravitate around New Square which is good for The Public yet look at this Tesco footprint.
Like many high streets West Bromwich has its fair share of empty shops. It also has a thriving indoor and outdoor market, most of which are run by independent family businesses. What impact will Tesco and the other multiples have on them? There is some refurbishment work going on in the pedestrianised part of the high street and in one of the older shopping centres, Queens Square. Only time will tell if Tesco rips the heart out of this high street and community too.
I don’t like big supermarkets for a number of reasons, and while I would like to avoid them completely, it is not really a viable option for me when I can only buy what I can carry and within walking distance. I have touched on my shopping preferences here in my April Shopping Challenge post.
Supermarkets appear to be cheap yet with the bogof offers and bulk buys most people are buying more than they really need which leads to food waste. They are designed to tempt the consumer to buy things they don’t really need, and spend money they can ill afford.(Sandwell has high levels of deprivation, unemployment and a high proportion of NEETS).
Talking to the local butcher, who after the last veg shop in Bearwood
closed down was forced out by an unscruplious landlord who had their palms crossed by a multiple who sells every thing for a £1, has been very enterprising and started to offer a range of loose fresh veg, I asked him how sales were going. Customers have complained that his prices are too high. They would rather go to Iceland and get a bag of carrots for a quid than buy three from him for 40p. Then he added, ‘what they haven’t thought is that they will end up throwing away most of the bag as they have gone off’. Of course they will. It is false economy buying veg in bulk if you are not going to cook it in a couple of days. Carrots that have been shipped across the county then wrapped in sweaty plastic bags that will go to landfill, will go off quite quickly so they need to be used within a couple of days. I do by bags from Aldi as that kilo of carrots will be in at least two meals, a soup and a breakfast juice. If they go past their best, and to be honest when we had the heat wave it was a battle to keep anything fresh, I have a compost heap, so eventually it will go back into the land, and a chicken who will eat most other stuff. New potatoes are dinner one night and potato salad the next. Cabbage and carrots are made into coleslaw and a stirfry.
As Team Pugh at A Year without Supermarkets have found they have saved huge amounts of money and have almost no waste by only shopping at independents and cooking from scratch. The bulk of my shopping is done at Aldi because it has what I want at the price I can afford. It doesn’t have bogof offers that tempt me to buy more than I need and the quality is good. Each week it has the Super 6, offering seasonal fruit and veg, unlike other chains that seem to have offers on fizzy drinks and fast food, hardly encouraging healthy choices. I don’t need to buy 2 for £5 scrawny pumped full chemicals chickens from Tesco as I can buy a Free Range chicken from Aldi for £5 and stretch it over 3 meals.
Of course Sandwell Council are over excited at having a shiny New Square in the ‘capital’ of Sandwell. Creating oh so many jobs. Of course most of the jobs will be minimum wage or Zero Hours contracts, and what will happen to the staff who will lose their jobs at the Public? 2000 people applied for the 30 jobs at the cinema. All of the folding t-shirts jobs have gone at Primark and it hasn’t opened yet.
The concerns that New Square will have a negative impact on the rest of the town has not been lost by the media, according to a BBC report there will be investment elsewhere in the town. What about those for whom West Bromwich is £3.90 bus ride away. Where is the investment in the rest of the Borough? New Square for West Bromwich. Old litter bins for the rest of Sandwell.