26 February 2019
When I’d seen all I could of the Bargate Quarter progress I crossed the road and headed towards some more building work. This has been going on for a lot longer, although things are moving on apace right now. There was a time when I thought I’d be looking down on this project daily and watching things unfold, but a lot has changed since then.
In 2013 I was working on the top floor of an office block overlooking the old East Street Shopping Centre. The views, especially the sunsets, were spectacular. The shopping centre, built in the 1970’s, was the first in the city but it was never completely successful because it was too far removed from the centre of town. In 2012 the last retail unit closed but the building remained open as a car park and for the public to walk through from St Mary’s.
In the summer of 2013, the doors were closed for good and, shortly afterwards, we watched from our office window as the demolition work began. Often I’d take a photo from the window of our little kitchen while I was making coffee. It felt like watching history in progress. Soon we learned that a supermarket was going to be built on the site and a new walkway joining St Mary’s to East Street. We watched the old shopping centre disappear with interest and anticipated watching the new building go up and then popping into the supermarket at lunchtime to buy our groceries.
None of these things were meant to be though. Not long after the work began we learned our office was closing. We were all being made redundant. Watching the building slowly disappear became a metaphor for our jobs. Then the supermarket owners pulled out and, for a long time, work stopped.
No longer working in the city centre meant I lost touch with what was happening at the bottom end of East Street, although I occasionally walked past and looked through the site gates. Driving past recently I noticed some new apartments have been built and Commando told me about a pedestrian walkway that has now opened. Today I thought I’d take a closer look.
Since I last came this way the row of shops opposite Debenhams has also been demolished. Often in my lunch hour I’d walk past them and occasionally go into the little bric-à-brac store, Scoops, to look around. This row of shops was where an IRA bomb exploded in the late 1970’s. In those days there were bomb scares all the time but this was the only actual bomb I remember exploding. Luckily, no one was hurt although the carpet shop where the bomb was planted and the surrounding area, including Debenhams, was damaged by the blast.
The bomber was caught some years later and jailed for seventeen years. Now the shops have gone. They weren’t especially attractive or busy. In fact, the whole area always felt a little down at heel. Soon there will be new commercial units, car parking and apartments. From the plans they look much nicer that anything there before and the whole thing will complement the Bargate Quarter.
A little further on a few shops still remain. These are older buildings with character. Hopefully they won’t be torn down but time will tell.
What I really wanted to see was the new walkway and buildings. The first thing I came to was the tall office block where I was offered a job before I accepted the one at Silver Helm. For a while I thought it was going to be pulled down like the shopping centre and pub beneath it but it’s now had a revamp and is looking very swish.
Just past the office block are the first of the new flats. As they are student accommodation I imagine the moaners hate them and are complaining bitterly but I quite like them. They’re made of light coloured brick and have the look of old fashioned warehouses to me.
The walkway is wide and paved in light coloured stone. It feels a safe and pleasant place. Between the buildings there are little areas of greenery. This is something else I like and will like even better if some seating appears at some point. My only frustration was that I couldn’t see through the hoardings and find out what was going on on the rest of the site.
Out on the street opposite the end of St Mary’s Street I discovered that the underpass that was closed when the demolition began has been reopened. Before I went through it I walked around to the other sid of the remaining building site onto Lime Street to try to satisfy my curiosity. What I discovered was a lot of nothing. Just some containers, probably being used as builders offices and a few cars parked up.
When the underpass was blocked off it was a bit of a blow. It was a nice easy place to cross the road without having to wait for traffic lights to change, important when you’re in a rush to get to work. The murals all along the sides of the sloping entrance ramp always made me smile too. They were representations of the local people in all their diversity. When it was all boarded up I often wondered if they were still there. Today I discovered they still were, albeit faded and, in some places peeling. Maybe the artist will come back and repaint them now?