Hometown plan

Whenever I come to Thailand I’m always impressed by how quickly opportunities are taken. Take, for example, the hundreds of cannabis cafés that popped up before the ink was dry on the relaxation of cannabis use law.

There’s such a ‘can do’ attitude. Whether by necessity, force of spirit of the Thai people, or much more relaxed planning and business laws, Thailand is always changing. Always growing. Always tapping into current trends.

And each time I visit I want to take that special Thai mindset and eye for business and sprinkle it all over my home town of Accrington.

Let me tell you about Accrington. It has never been an affluent place, certainly not in my lifetime anyway. But in my youth it was a vibrant town with bustling indoor and outdoor markets, plenty of franchise chain shops, and loads of little independent shops and cafés. Add to that the weekend nightlife and it was a cool place to grow up in and to live.

Fast forward to the present and all there is left are some of the big supermarkets, charity shops, betting shops, take aways, pound shops, pie shops, and a clutch of independents bravely fighting to stay open. People go to the the bigger nearby towns and cities to shop or enjoy a night out, and Accrington has become a broken rundown place.

Over the years the bus station has been moved several times yet the bus routes have been cut further and further. Supermarkets and take aways have been given free rein whilst rates have risen and risen for the pretty independents and planning rules have stopped so many places from thriving. The indoor market and Arndale Centre have had money thrown at them to become food hubs in a town where there’s no shortage of eateries, so each attempt to regenerate has been bound to fail.

The older people are cross and mourn the loss of their town’s soul. The youth are bored; there’s literally nothing to do that is affordable.

So what is the council doing to level up? How is it spending 28 million pounds? Oh, that’s right; regenerating the indoor Market again by making a food hub, and creating a working and arts hub across from it in an attempt to attract outsiders.

To me, you don’t just stamp all over what’s already there and evict or raise the rates of the businesses that are doing well in the vague hope that you might attract visitors.

No, you work with what you already do have. And you identify what you can build on. How can you attract visitors when your transport links are so rubbish and you have zero hotels?

OK smartarse, you might say, what would you do?

Well, I would look at what Accrington does have. Here is a non- exhaustive list:

1. Beautiful scenery.

2. Artists.

3. Writers.

4. A sense of humour.

5. Rain.

6. Terraced houses.

7. Impressive buildings.

8. The Coppice.

9. Haworth Art Gallery

10. A thriving Asian community.

11. Musicians.

12. Grit.

13. Abandoned buildings.

14. Empty shopping centres with glass roofs.

15. Supermarkets leeching the town of life and profit.

To me, the vision for the town would be to let the people have a free rein to be entrepreneurial and artistic.

Let them have spaces to show off their talents.

Let them paint their houses a hundred different bright colours.

Let every shop, house and cafe use the pavements to grow flowers and plants.

Let artists take over the gable ends with bright graffiti.

Let the jaded shopping centres be green spaces where musicians are free to busk poets free to perform, locals able to sit and drink coffee and the atmosphere.

Let people knit and crochet public art. Actively encourage children to make public art out of recycled materials and display them in the town.

Get the supermarkets involved in sponsoring competitions for the prettiest shop, the most colourful house, the best public art, the most talented busker. Whatever, competitions and prizes are an incentive, and why should shareholders be the only ones to benefit from big businesses?

Cut the rates and give grants and loans to start ups the incrementally re- introduce the rates based on success. An empty shop helps nobody. Tenanted shops create customers and that custom spreads to other shops and businesses.

Finally, I would make moaning illegal. Because that’s what really brings the town right down: “it won’t work”; “they won’t let us do that”; “it will never catch on”.

How can we know if we don’t try?

Thailand would be shit if people didn’t try.

Accrington doesn’t allow people to try. It’s time it started.

And it’s time the council started to listen to the people living there.

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