The High Street of Christmas Yet to Come
What do you call an old snowman? Water!
Ah, Christmas cracker jokes. I love Christmas. I’m not a religious man but Christmas embodies so many traditions core to my beliefs. Family and friends. Helping each other out. Communities coming together to sing carols. Taking time to cook a good meal, and the time to eat it in good company. I love snow, even more since having kids, but that’s not guaranteed.
I’ve also just had a week off which was very welcome. Spending time with my wife and kids, listening to Christmas songs and watching films. This might be controversial, but I reckon the best film version of A Christmas Carol is by the Muppets. Miss Piggy troughing chestnuts is comedy gold. It also brilliantly conveys the story of Scrooge. Michael Caine insisted on playing the role like he was with the Royal Shakespeare Company. It’s perfectly judged and gives the film real weight. The wilful ignorance and the ‘I’m alright Jack, pull the ladder up’ mentality. You’ll all know people like this, things haven’t changed that much, sadly. People hunker down in their homes because there are so few places we can meet without having to buy something. It’s getting harder and harder for communities to hold together.
My Christmas Past was walking down the high street with my Mam. We would drop into the butchers, greengrocers, maybe even the sweet shop as a Christmas treat. I remember the sense of community. Bumping into neighbours and friends who stopped to chat. The shopkeepers knew us.
The Christmas Present on our high streets is quite different. Betting shops, takeaways, and the all too common sight of people sleeping rough. I don’t remember rough sleepers from my childhood. Too many shops are chain stores, all high streets are starting to look the same. Too few independents with local character and individuality. Where it does exist it’s the exception and regarded with pride.
What’s in store for our Christmas Future?
Imagine this. You’re walking down a high street which is rich with life. You know exactly where you are because it’s unique. It reflects the uniqueness of the community and the history of the area. Of course it does because they helped build it. The first shop is a repair café. You can pop in with your vacuum cleaner or broken spade and get it patched up. It’s such a waste throwing things away when they can be fixed.
The next shop is a greengrocer who specialises in food grown locally, from farmers and surplus from allotments. When people want local, seasonal fruit and veg this is where they come.
The next shop is a remakery. I say shop, it’s more like a workshop. It’s full of tools and equipment. A place where you can learn a range of practical skills that were being forgotten. You can learn woodwork, needlework, metalwork. If there is someone to teach it, you can do it here. It celebrates the ingenuity of people and skills. The generosity of spirit is infectious and has created a warm and welcoming place for people of all ages to swap stories and make friends.
Payday lenders have been replaced by credit unions and a community bank. There’s still the odd betting shop and few takeways. Who doesn’t like a takeaway every now and then? But they’re part of an interesting array of shops, uniquely local.
This can happen. A community can come together and decide to create a more vibrant place to socialise and shop.
‘The past we inherit, the future we build.’
John Lennon’s Happy Xmas challenges us, asking, “So this is Christmas, and what have you done?” Well this year I became Mayor. I stood because I’m convinced we can create a society better than the one we have now. Climate change, inequality and job insecurity are all reasons I worry about the future for my kids, and everyone else’s. Community is the key to addressing this. So let’s keep the Christmas spirit all year round.
This article was first published in The Chronicle and The Journal on Monday 30th December 2019.