Vive la Resolution!
It’s a new year, so what should we be resolving for Wellington in 2013? Here are some new developments to look out for…
1. The Big Clifton Revival
Potentially the most exciting project we’ve seen in Wellington for a long time, 2013 will be the year when plans to revive the old Clifton Cinema will really whir into action.
So what exactly can we expect to see happening in the next 12 months? The honest answer is probably not much at the building itself – this is a mammoth project and even if it’s a great success, it’ll be a long time until we see films playing there again. This year will be about laying the foundations and publically launching the campaign to start raising money, possibly through a community share ownership similar to that used at Fordhall Farm in North Shropshire. Bearing in mind the likely timescales, it’ll be important to build local support whilst some of the less glamorous legwork to secure the building goes on behind the scenes. One way could be to set up mini-film nights in the short term – in community centres, pubs, school halls etc – to give people a taste of how brilliant a new fully-blown cinema and arts centre could be, and in the process build an army of project supporters. The success of Wrekin College’s recent monthly film screenings – not to mention the similar pop-up cinemas all over the UK – will give the project team plenty to be encouraged by.
Bricks and mortar
Other physical changes are likely to materialise more quickly over the next 12 months. As we speak, the recently renovated and extended old Lloyds Bank building on Church Street is being marketed as ‘Bank Court’, and is a sign of things to come.
Other town centre sites are also lined up for a make-over in 2013. The last post on this blog referred to the plans to turn Edgbaston House into flats and bedsits, but the future of the old library next door remains uncertain, and that is surely ripe for a residential make-over. Nearby, grand town house The Mount – another former council property – is set to return to being lived in, the site having been bought by local developers Hama. The folks behind the smart redevelopment of Portway House in Plough Road, Hama plan to do something similar at The Mount, dividing the original building into ‘luxury apartments’. This time they’re adding a swimming pool apparently, and will also build some new properties in the grounds. Just a few minutes’ walk away, two further period properties are awaiting a similar face-lift – Wrekin Road School and just up the hill, Highfield House.
Across the other side of the town centre, the much-resisted Charlton Arms development will be under pressure to get moving before government grants to help kick-start frozen building projects run out. Whilst we all mourn the loss of Wellington’s grandest hotel, the planners have at least demanded a thoughtful and high-quality redevelopment which will greatly improve the appearance of the site, if not its value to the commercial and social life of the town.
So what should we think about this growing trend to bring housing into the town? Some see it as a slippery slope to Wellington’s commercial decline – an unwelcome acceptance that our future is as a residential dormitory rather than bustling retail centre. But we should be positive. It’s perfectly normal for market towns to have a mix of housing, shops and leisure uses within their historic centres – you’ll find housing in the centre of all Shropshire’s other market towns, even Shrewsbury. Wellington’s rapid growth in the 19th and 20th centuries put pressure on existing buildings and made the centre almost entirely commercial by the mid-60s, but as we re-find our place alongside Telford, bringing some of that housing back into the centre will be beneficial to our image and appearance, not detrimental. As an added bonus, housing brings surveillance, which increases a sense of safety at night.
Shops are a big theme on this blog. About a year ago, Wellington had just a couple of empty units in its central shopping area, but will things get better of worse in 2013? It’s touch and go – the white shop on the corner of Walker and Duke Streets, until recently a tattooists, is now vacant; so too is the former Williams & Lamb building that sits opposite; and long-standing gents outfitters Miles will soon we winding-up into retirement, leaving another unit vacant.
But these are all opportunities as well as losses, if there are people able to make them such. The former Williams and Lamb building, for instance, may soon become an art and crafts workshop space, working title ‘Cornerstone’ – another project which had its origins in the Ideas Farm workshop back in November. A lot of people bemoan the lack of art and craft retailers in Wellington, and the aim of this project is to bring some of the artist-makers into the town with reasonably priced workshop, exhibition and sales space. The current availability of this shop – a fine Edwardian building at the head of five streets – is encouraging nearby shop owner Nick Redshaw and others to get some heads banged together and make it happen. We have two or three makers very interested in getting involved, and the same number again will make it viable.
Collecting up the empties: In the last 18 months we’ve seen two historic Wellington pubs go from empty to open – The White Lion (re-opened by Salopian Brewery) and The Raven (re-opened by Amber Taverns). At the start of 2013, another two – The Bacchus on Church Street and The Pheasant on Market Street – are awaiting a buyer. Can we attract a local brewery to smarten them up? Joules of Market Drayton are set to expand their empire in the next few years following a loan from the Cooperative Bank, and Shropshire breweries Ironbridge and Hobson’s also have their own pubs.
Whoever takes them on, hopefully at least one will give the town a decent place for lunch or an evening meal. When it comes to pubs, Wellington has a bit of a doughnut problem – everything’s happening around the edge of the town, but there’s nothing much in the middle. The Cock Hotel is the town’s best pub for real ale, closely followed by The Wrekin Inn, and when it comes to food you need to wander further from the centre – to The Wickets, The Red Lion or The Old Orleton. The town centre is better known for what you might call ‘drinkers’ pubs’ – leaving anyone in search of a good pub lunch in the middle of town with no options apart from Wetherspoons. How brilliant it would be to have a cosy, quirky, well-kept pub that served food in the middle of Wellington. The William Withering does the best job at the moment, but it’s a bit of an indictment when your town has to rely on Wetherspoons for pub lunches.
In 2012, some very positive things happened in Wellington. The town saw some great events, some great new businesses and some exciting ideas for doing more. Making the progress we want to make in 2013 will mean a steady flow of more of the same, but more than that, it’ll demand a few people taking a leap of faith and investing in some of those ideas. Thinking and talking and being excited is the start – but in 2013 we need to get down to work.
What do you want to see happening in the town this year? And what can we do to make it happen? Tell us in the Comments box…