Three years ago, on a freezing, dark December morning, I stood outside Wilkinsons in Beeston and gave an interview to BBC Radio Nottingham about why I would be spending the next few days getting people to sign a petition to keep Wilkinsons in Beeston, and to protect the 60 jobs there. I was expecting a few signatures, but after two days of standing outside, kept alive with cups of tea the Wilkos staff smuggled out, I, along with volunteers who came along to help me when things got really busy, had accumulated over 3,500 signatures. I’d suspected it might be popular – I have always been a fan of Wilkos and their staff – but was surprised and overjoyed to see the extent Beestonians shared that love. It was duly presented to the council, who unanimously backed our call for Wilkos to reconsider shutting down completely, and take premises that the Square developers Henry Boot had offered them. This fell on deaf ears, seemingly, and in April 2012 Wilkos closed and demolished, with half the staff losing their job and the other half relocated to Nottingham and Long Eaton.
Three years later, and once again I’m bleary-eyed, cold, and in Beeston Square giving an interview to Radio Nottingham. In the three years that have passed, so much has happened I won’t bore you with blow-by-blow details: I don’t need to, you probably live here and have seen, heard, and been inconvenienced by it.
Yet there is lots of reasons to be cheerful. It’s looking like it will be six months overdue, but the tram is nearing completion and gradually things are getting back to normal. Chilwell Road is (belatedly) open to traffic, albeit one way and so complex to navigate you might need one of those passengers rally drivers have, shouting ‘Hard left! Brake! Avoid bloke in hard hat!’.
Good news from a council meeting of the Beeston Town Centre Working Group I attended at the Town Hall on Tuesday evening. The tone was of cross-party optimism. The work initiated by the Continuum, of which I will talk about in a post later this month, is starting to bear fruit, with the University Built Environment department coming down to help their neighbours here in Beeston. Beeston has been identified by businesses and retailers as a very attractive area to set up, to such an extent areas of land the council own that would usually been sold for a quick buck (such as the old market place) are now being kept as they are expected to rocket in value.
While budgets are tight, money was there to be spent on some cosmetic features before the end of the financial year. Some good ideas came up, such as up lighting the parish church and other prominent, good-looking buildings. The Tories on the committee were in agreement with Labour and Lib Dem councillors that the worst was over, and Beeston was now on the verge of increased prosperity.
It was also mentioned by the attendant council officer that ‘A large retailer has leased the remaining units in the Square development, though we can’t say who it is’. The meeting chair responded ‘I think anyone using Facebook over the last couple of days will know who we are talking about’.
It is, of course, Wilkinsons. While their frustrating (one journo recently summed them up as ‘I’m sure there are countries that would like a Secret Service as effective as them’) communications department still refuse to confirm or deny, it is pretty clear they are the retailers that have snapped up the units. As I understand it, the contracts are signed and the ink dry, and they will be back early 2015. We broke the story this Monday on The Beestonian Facebook page, and within a few hours had hundreds of likes, tons of comments and more shares, views and interactions on that single post than anything we’ve ever posted before. At the time of writing, that one post has reached over 26,000 people. That is more than the population of Beeston. We really like Wilkos here.
Why have they came back? Commercial viability, of course. Yet one of the ways they would have assessed how well they will do here would have been to monitor stuff, such as the recent post on Facebook where we asked ‘What do you most miss about Beeston?’. The overwhelming response was ‘Wilkos’. The 3,500 signatures collected, and the coverage in the media all added to the case to return to our town. A minor part maybe – that store was highly profitable, after all – but by clubbing together as a town, and getting our voice heard change can happen. Well done, Beeston.
So jubilation, happiness, nice way to slide into Christmas and the spangly brand new Beeston of 2015? Well, if only life was that easy.
I was live tweeting the meeting on Tuesday, just to see if Wilkos was mentioned. Once it was, I was toying with going home. I was tired, the council chamber air conditioning is so dry you feel the moisture being sucked from your pores, and my phone battery was telling me it had a pitiful 1% of life left in it. Yet, being essentially a polite type of person who doesn’t like to interrupt stuff by clomping out, I stayed.
It was then the bad news was released. A piece that was not on the agenda, as notification had only just been issued. British Gas / National Grid had demanded that they come into the Square, dig a huge area running from Oban House right to the centre of the Square, with another excavation running down to the bus station. Please feel to add your own swear-word here. I will go with ‘shit-the-bed’.
So just as we get back to normal, with the new Square development opening in around a fortnight and the nearby tramworks easing up; Chilwell Road being fully open to traffic and Wilkos jubilantly marching back; new ideas about future development coming in and national retailers pricking up their ears to Beeston; just as it looks like we would be free of trenches and holes and hi-vis and helmets and having to work out new ways to get anywhere; this bomb gets dropped.
It’s why I’m back in Beeston Square with the BBC. I was booked into my usual monthly slot on the Breakfast Show Newspaper Review tomorrow, but received a call early morning while I was still snug under my duvet, asking if I could come a day earlier as the news about the excavation was being reported directly from Beeston. I hopped out of bed onto my bike, and trundled to the Square.
The story seems to be that National Grid unexpectedly announced that the gas main-lines in Beeston centre are in a dire state and need urgent replacement. Not repair, replacement. This means a major piece of work. I have been tipped off that it might just be these areas either, but great swathes of Beeston.
Why wasn’t this done while the tram works were already digging up Beeston. Seems it didn’t occur to National Grid. They can, and do, just announce they want to carry out major works, and then just march in, with little room for opposition. In this case, they have demanded that they have the Square for six months.
This may be contingency planning, and it will take a lot less, but it still doesn’t bode well. It shouldn’t impact on the tram delivery, or the opening of the new Square, but it is going to lead to bizarre scenarios such as the digging up of new paving NET have to lay as part of their contract, after less than a month. As the paving contractors will have already have been paid, there is seemingly no way to avoid this.
Why was so little notice given? Why have National Grid /British Gas just decided that pipes that have been there for decades need replacing now, with such urgency? Why could it have not done over the last few months?
We need answers, and we need the people responsible to see how incredibly damaging their actions are. My suggestion is this. Over the last few years, Beeston has been torn apart, and not just physically. The tram has polarised many people, with little room for people like myself, and what I suspect is the majority of Beestonians, who are tram agnostics. Pro / Anti arguments rage, to little end or use.
We need to show some unity. Right now, we face a common enemy. This is not a council issue, this is not an MP issue, this isn’t even a tram issue. This is a private utility company caring diddly-squat for our town, and kicking it when it was just getting back up. We need to unite to tell them that this is unacceptable, that they must get these works done with the minimal of fuss, as fast as humanly possible, and work with Beeston, not against us, in getting this over with asap.
It’s Christmas (well, close enough). Beeston, time to set your differences aside and lets get together. We work better that way.
Follow the Beestonian Facebook site for regular updates on the situation, and other news about Beeston, here: https://www.facebook.com/TheBeestonian.
Sensible comments – so how do we take this forward? Who do we phone or write to? What is the address I can stand outside with a placard?
While the works are vital, the issue of access and convenience must be pushed. National Grid must enter into discussions with locals, the council, our MP etc on how to make the best of the situation, and mitigate damage and access issues as much as possible. Further down the line, asking for legislation against the utility companies and their ability to do this. However, they have a very strong lobby in parliament so might not be as easy as it sounds.
Eloquently put Matt – it’s exactly what Beeston doesn’t need right now, and that National Grid can demand this now despite how ill timed and random this is and how ridiculous it is that they didn’t align it with the tramworks is just awful and absolutely it’s unacceptable!
We need to find a way to stop them…
Mitigation, rather than prohibiting, seems the best way forward. It still is absurd that pipes that have been there for 130 years need digging up the month after Beeston has had the largest dig site in living memory. If you wanted to annoy Beeston more, it’s hard to imagine beating this. Apart from perhaps renaming it ‘New Bridgford’ or ‘North Clifton’.
Wilkos were badly missed when they left – but how many have found BnM a more than adequate substitute?
Wilkos have changed their stores over the last 10 years or so – I think they seemed they needed to go “up market”. Well for me, BnM have done and will continue to do nicely thanks.
Talking of “up market” why cant we have a decent town centre market, complementing the other shops?
And regarding the gas pipe – just typical. They WILL do whatever they like !
Wilkos seem to have moved up a few notches since they expanded down south. From the rumours I’m hearing we’ll be getting a brand new shop, with all sorts of modern tech. I’m still freaked out walking into Argos and instead of having the comforting site of banks of those bibles of laminated joy, catalogues; have instead the clinical spartan emptiness of an Apple shop. As a proud Luddite, I still keep a stash of the little blue pens and use them as a stylus when browsing.
Seriously though, it will be interesting how they integrate with B&M, as well as Poundland. Both have filled certain niches Wilkos previously did.
The present market on a Monday is growing, but I agree, a larger one would be good if the traders were willing. Hopefully the tram opening will convince more to take a chance. The former market site is being held by the council rather than be sold, so who knows?
Just getting in touch on behalf of Wilko, we’d love it if Beestonia blog members could make it to the re-opening of the store on Thursday 25th June.
Is there an email/phone number I can reach you on? My email is below, feel free to get in touch.
Interesting news. The connection – or lack of – between the tram works and the utility works to follow deserves closer exploration as the way different large companies work can result in seemingly disjointed decision making. Things are rarely as straightforward as they seem, though the inconvenience for residents is clear.
I doubt that either NET or the National Grid *want* to make residents’ lives difficult, and that neither do what they do without investment in feasibility and other pre-shovel work, and there may well be good, if frustrating, reasons for the timing of this.
I’m sure also though that it’s not beyond the capabilities of companies to co-operate to minimise waste and disruption (as your comment on the new paving illustrates).
It’s great to see a passionate advocate of localism writing fluently and constructively on these issues. Your posts are very much enjoyed.
Yes, I agree that no company deliberately goes out of their way to annoy people. Except possibly Virgin Media, but that is another blog post. The issue does seem to be the lack of joined up thinking; I imagine that there will be a lot of discussion between various parties on why this is. Reform of the law is perhaps one, long term solution: from the brief research I’ve done over the last 48 hours it seems that this is much needed.
There is a certain fatalism here; obviously we can’t just say no. If the gas needs doing. Yet there is a case for demanding they are done with the least possible convenience, and push for general reform so it doesn’t happen again with such awful timing.
Why the surprise about the utilities? This is what happens when you privatise essentials services and give them state like powers at the same time. To use your word Matt: They ‘shit’ where and when they like at our expense. We all know what to do, but none of big political parties are interested – all utilities, like railways, should be taken in to regional public ownership. In the 21st century we need the vision to create and sustain local energy sources. It can be done. It just would not serve the interests of big business and their political cronies. How about a New Year resolution for 2015? – ‘Beeston with ATTITUDE – a town that takes no nonsense from anyone’.
Follow the money.
Isn’t it because these utility upgrades are scheduled WELL in advance, and the tram over-running by so much means it’s come up to butt the scheduled British Gas thing up the rear? I guess we can hardly blame GB for being no wiser that NET themselves on progress of the works – as NET announcements on completion seem to change every day.
It’s frustrating, incompetent and wasteful. But what’s new there?
‘This too will pass’, as some wise man’s jeweller once said…
So what can we do to show our unity against National Grid’s thoughtless destruction of our town yet again? should we march on town hall or what? I’m game.