Save Lichfield’s image or lose it forever

The combination of a rare midweek day out and Nick B’s piece on the closure of Couch got me thinking.

Couch’s demise is another sign of small businesses being squeezed out as the financial downturn and the one-size-fits-all coffee shop and pub takes hold.

Regardless of what you think about Couch – and some friends of The Lichfield Blog have said they won’t miss it – it looks worryingly like another step in Lichfield’s move towards a flat-pack city centre.

Wandering around the city on a rare day off during the week yesterday helped me see just why Lichfield should fight to protect its identity.

Even for someone who lives in the city, it was surprising how much time I managed to kill just pottering around. And it was surprising how many out-of-town accents I heard, with most of them heading towards the individual shops and businesses around the Minster Pool area.

Seeing people sat outside the small cafes in the sunshine and enjoying fudge from the traditional sweet shop made you realise what Lichfield’s appeal really is. People don’t come here to enjoy a Subway or visit a pound shop – they come here because it’s different.

Yes, the city also needs to live as a working area for those who live here, but tourism and history is such a massive part of Lichfield that a balance has to be struck. New developments in the city centre should be in-keeping with the area. Small, independent businesses should be encouraged to thrive. And visitors should be encouraged to come here. But without the first two of those, the last one will dwindle away.

The danger of trying to fill shop space at all cost is that you can’t give an area a character.

Yes, the current cutbacks and business closures are a worrying trend which is affecting Lichfield now, but the city needs to hold its nerve. If the shops are filled with any Tom, Dick or Harry’s shop at the moment then that will become the city’s identity.

And when the recession becomes a memory, Lichfield will have to live with what it has – and the fact it will never be the same city again if it has opted for the easy option.

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Founder of LichfieldLive and editor of the site.

5 Comments

  1. GrovesMedia

    17th March, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    I’ve had similar thoughts since I began walking to and from work every day. It is a lovely city to walk through. Also, riding my bike early in the morning can be fantastic as the city is not yet awake – apart from the ducks reclaiming the streets.

    But I’m not sure Lichfield has known what its identity is – or should be – for many years.

    What identity are we fighting to save?

  2. Mrs Woffington

    17th March, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    As I said, it’s the proximity of Birmingham that’s messing things up for Lichfield. The situation that Sammy J outlines has already happened in Birmingham, with a Council intent on getting large chains into every vacant unit, yet letting uniquely historic places such as the Great Western Arcade go to rack and ruin. I don’t know – what’s the solution except refusing to shop at the chain stores and supporting locals as much as possible?

  3. Alex Stinton

    17th March, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    In the end of the day we are all to blame for the way things are going. Money is all that talks and everyone is sending the message that this is the way we want it by spending our money with the chains and not supporting the smaller retailers.

    I am torn between a desire for variety and the recognition that the retail business is evolving with the stronger better run businesses winning through. I think it’s too late to reverse this evolution, but what will be important is making sure we preserve the unique architecture of places like Lichfield.

    We can decide how things play out, but we need to make sure we are not complicit as we have been in the destruction of small retailers.

  4. Tony Piper

    17th March, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    I don’t know too much about the ins and outs of the local economy but Lichfield is a special place, and it would be great if the authorities can encourage more independent traders. Perhaps it needs to have some concessions on business rates (and rents)?

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