Bianca Todd has some suggestions for revitalising the town centre of Northampton…
The town centre reminds me of my mint plant that I’m trying to grow in my office, I love mint and I love Northampton town centre, so bare with me for this tedious link. The reason why I’ve named my mint plant ‘Northampton’ is because at one point it had lots of green leaves and the smell as you walked by the plant and touched the leaves was fresh. Then one day when I wasn’t looking the majority of the leaves were brown, fallen, covering the soil with a layer of crackled , crumbled leaves.
I had no choice but to chop the plant back to a few branches. I want the mint plant to survive.
It seems to me that the town centre needs to be pruned, redesigned if it is to do more than survive, if it is to thrive. I am from Northampton, I run a social enterprise that works in the heart of the town; I am passionate about the town and think that whilst we are living in some of the most difficult times our town has experienced in my lifetime there is room for hope that a better Northampton is possible.
I’ve attended meetings throughout the county, where I’ve heard Northampton’s gatekeepers talk about what the national trends are in terms of high street shopping. The meetings where the talking lacked community involvement, the main key holder to turning around our town: Northamptonian’s, were lacking from the conversation.
It is perfectly obvious that online shopping is going to continue to impact our high street and require us to change, however alongside that there are other social issues that need to be in the mixing pot of considerations when we look to the future.
We are living in austerity times, austerity a word that has lost all value of meaning as it is used as an explanation of the economic strategy for today. For many austerity means more than having too much month at the end of their money it means having too many weeks, unable to financially survive, living in poverty, surviving through food banks, suffering emotional ill health as a result.
As we become increasingly connected virtually, in the real world we are disconnected and lonely. Loneliness is one of the biggest contributing factors for older people in premature death, and increased number of younger people are also identifying as feeling / being lonely. Why is this? Because people need people.
So what am I suggesting as a solution to the town centre crisis and the issues that are affecting our community?
I am suggesting three things: firstly let’s look at the market square, a market that used to be the centre of the huddle and bustle of town centre life. However over the years the variety of stalls has shrunk and with it the number of stalls. What can be done to change this? Why not change the physical format of the stalls? Placing a seating area in the centre where people can be a part of the market community.
Why not have one stall as a permanent human library resource where the stall is offered to individuals, community groups, businesses as a way for people living in the town to learn more about them as humans and what they bring to the town; this providing a constant sense of pride for the town.
Why not permanently have a university stall for budding entrepreneurs, how about another that is shared by secondary schools? Another for those young people at risk of anti social / criminal behaviour, another for community led groups? The list could go on, but providing people with a space for free to be an active part of the town is the beginning of rebuilding our town centre.
Secondly let us think about the asthetics of the town. Where do families like to spend time? In concrete jungles? No, not really. Spaces that are enhanced with trees and feel green are more likely to attract people to come and walk through the town and see what is on offer. More than that, trees are fantastic for your health, taking in all of the carbon dioxide and sharing with us oxygen. An additional benefit is around tackling littering and anti social behaviour.
Finally let us think about empty shops spaces and pop up shops. In an ideal way it would be fantastic if Northampton borough council and the BID were able to influence the landlords of buildings and negotiate a flexible renting model that provides a supportive environment for those inspiring people who want to create in the town. Yes it is important that the spaces are filled, but isn’t it time we thought about how we can encourage a more interactive experience.
I will provide tie examples of what I mean; Northampton history lies in shoes, we are the town of cobblers, but where are the cobblers? Why can’t we have a shop space that sells shoes, and within that space you can see how shoes are made, and if you want to make your own shoes you can. Northampton has creative quarter, but unless you are already involved in that sector, finding a space within it can be a challenge. Why can’t we have a creative hub, where there is a space to have hot drinks and snacks utilising the services of hope enterprises or the principles of Elsie’s cafe, but surrounding this there were interactive workshops.
Where people can continue with their creativity, whilst simultaneously showcasing the particular skills and workshop opportunities for people to get involved. If we can convince the landlords to do this, why wait until the Christmas market to create a buzz about the town, why not stop participating in the privatisation of the police by purchasing them for particular parts of the own, instead why not invest in pop up spaces and show the people of Northampton that you believe in them, you believe in the town. We can make Northampton thrive by weaving the skills of the people who live in Northampton into a town of creativity.
NOTE: if you are interested in being a part of #PeopleNeedPeople. Contact: Community Court Yard, 07925730772 / firstname.lastname@example.org