Yesterday I went back to Tamworth for the first time in ages. The town in which I grew up. I had a little time to kill so I took a walk around the town centre. Initially, when walking up Little Church Lane, round the back of the church and into the shopping precinct, I got that pleasing nostalgic feeling that comes with visiting a place where happy memories lie.
It didn’t last long.
I remember Tamworth town centre as a bustling, vibrant place on a saturday morning, with its market and shops and Ankerside shopping centre, the Coop and Woolies, kids sitting on the church wall eating chips and busses constantly shuttling folks in from Stonydelph, Wilnecote, Aminton and Dosthill. But yesterday it looked threadbare, worn, rotting at the core. It felt like 6am the morning after a great party, with only the weary stragglers remaining; those who have nowhere else to go, nothing better to do.
There are a few shops recogniseable to me: Boots, where I used to buy vinyl singles for 99p; Buxton & Bonnet’s which sells school uniforms. The Coop is the landmark it always was. Only now it’s all painted white inside, with cheap clothes on metal rails surrounded by stacks of cardboard boxes. But the rest have moved or closed.
The library’s still there, but seems to have around half the books it used to. (It was cool, though, that they had one of my books in the very spot where I used to sit and read when I was a kid. Although there are no longer any seats.)
The prime cause of central Tamworth’s decay has to be Ventura park. A retail development on the outskirts of the town, it’s the location of many trendy shops, clotted around grey concrete and tarmac, with a Sainbury’s nearby. Families can spend many hours sitting in their cars waiting to get into the inadequate parking areas to trudge around and spend their hard-earned, before driving home again, having no interaction with the centre of Tamworth.
OK, some of my observations are distorted by time. I left Tamworth 18 years ago, and while a lot has changed in the intervening period it’s been a gradual process for those who live there, while the picture in my head no longer fits the reality of the place.
One thing’s for certain, though: following yesterday’s visit, for the first time I know I’ll never go back.