Welcome to the town of St Austell, so we didn’t win the city bid and not only am I not surprised I’m also not sure if the prize was that big a deal anyway. I understand why St Ashap’s went for it and why they got it, they do have a cathedral after all, they must be thrilled to be finally recognized after all these centuries, and Chelmsford and Perth are really quite large.
What it has done though is make us relook at our town and consider it in a positive light. It’s been so easy to denigrate the place over the last decade. The rot appears to have set in according to local gossip when the council said no to Marks and Spencer and they went to Truro instead. I wasn’t around then but I know people who used to shop in St Austell who started to shop in Truro but let’s be fair, Truro may have a smaller population than St Austell but it has a far larger commercial centre in which shops can flourish. It has more open areas within the shops to have markets and street fairs, it was the county seat and had other reasons for people to visit; the cathedral, the law court, county hall, the theatre and so on and all of these factors must also have had a factor on where shoppers chose to spend their money. As I said I wasn’t here at the time and this is one of those topics where I run the risk of being shot down as an outsider that doesn’t know what they are talking about. However, looking at it dispassionately, having M&S would have been great but the argument that other big businesses followed M&S into Cornwall and into Truro doesn’t really wash, where would they have gone in St Austell? Even with a brand new shopping centre we still don’t have anything large enough for a second department store.
Maybe losing M&S created a loss of confidence in the town amongst the people of St Austell; lord knows the amount of times I hear that that decision was the wrong one suggests that people were very bitter and resentful about it. And it is fair to say that St Austell has undergone something of a steady decline over the last few years but I can see a town getting back on its feet. I went to a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting and it was a pleasant eye opener. I’m not a member but they had an open meeting where all businesses could come along. The Chamber held their hands up and said that in the past they had had issues but they were making a new start, that included a greater level of inclusivity and a more open a receptive attitude towards new schemes and businesses. One great new event is going to be the first St Austell Spring Fayre on the 28th and 29th of April with Plants Galore, Flower Show with St Austell in Bloom, Children’s Fun & Games with the Big Green Bus & Eden Cafe, Food and Drink from Cornish Producers, Live Music & Entertainment.
The chamber will be supporting this venture along with providing real support for new businesses and I think it marks the start of a very positive new chapter in St Austell’s very long and important history