Death of a town – any sign of life?

What do I know?

Seven months ago I wrote the blog ‘Death of a town’ about the demise of Kettering town centre; it got huge readership and created more controversy than any blog I’ve written thus far. Radio Northampton interview me about Kettering at least every other month about proposals that Kettering Borough Council have made and have said they will implement. Seven months is a fair amount of time for something to happen so what has? I’ve seen the Kettering by the sea idea seem quite popular and I know Starlight Dance have performed down there a few times, but what about the town itself? Has anything changed? I was interviewed before the European Championships because KBC were going to install a large screen for people to watch sport on. Presumably for England’s progress through the Championship and then to attract people around the excitement of the Olympics. I said at the time it was a nice idea, but I wasn’t sure if it would happen. I was right. Nothing happened.

A Saturday night in Kettering

A couple of weeks ago I went out in Kettering on a Saturday night for the first time since last November. It was soulless. It was the last night of the Olympics so maybe that was why it was so quiet, but it had nothing that would make me want to go there ever again. And why are so many people orange? Is this a new fad? I don’t mean tanned; they were orange. It’s bizarre. A friend of mine is leaving Kettering this week; she’s moving away and although she loves her house, she has had enough of the town. In her opinion it’s been on the way out since the end of the 80’s. I walked along Montagu St to go back to my car. Where once there was a nightclub and a bustling street of takeaways it is now a lonely walk up to the car park. My old friends at Chopper and Exhibit are still there I’m pleased to say, holding out as destination and independent shops.

Why is Lincoln so successful?

The reason for writing this piece was a Radio 4 programme I listened to on the iPlayer today about what makes a successful High Street. The reporter focussed on two places. One was Lincoln. Here are some of the things that were said. They place an importance of the appearance of the High Street: it should look clean, bright, safe and welcoming. “Visit Lincoln” put on street entertainment (maybe something Starlight could do, but not just down at the end of town that most people don’t walk down to). Lincoln works hard to make sure it looks different every time a person returns to visit it. They work on partnerships between the landlords, shop keepers, Council and the Visit Lincoln group. It all seems pretty simple really, but that’s Lincoln so maybe that wouldn’t work in Kettering??

Oh no, somewhere else is doing well

How about a little closer to home? Corby is often given credit as being much improved, so let’s look at somewhere else and less than a thirty minute drive from Kettering: Market Harborough. I once visited Market Harborough and thought it was the dullest place on earth. That was ten years ago; now it is one of England’s most successful High Streets. What are they doing? Much the same as Lincoln; although with the added bonus of cheap parking. The BBC even interviewed a couple from Kettering who said “Parking in Market Harborough is £1.70 for 4 hours so we feel we have time to browse. In Kettering it is £1.20 for one hour.” Didn’t I say that in January and a man from the Council explained how, in real terms, the price of parking in Kettering had gone down! I thought he was a fool then and I think he’s a bigger fool now. Bruce and Sheila from Kettering also explained how Market Harborough attracted them to the town as “the shops in Kettering are very limited.”

Will anyone listen?

When I wrote back in January I thought it was one bloke having a moan. I was wrong. It seems I am right. Kettering is fading fast and I see no sign of an improvement. I was asked what I thought should happen and I stand by everything I said back then. Cheaper parking, interesting shops, a lovely town centre, a place you want to wander around and spend your money. The great destination shops are still bringing people in, but the Council and the people who run the town centre are not working together. My advice is go to Market Harborough and see what they’re doing. If you don’t act soon you won’t have to act at all.

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