Monday, 13 February 2017

Squaring the Circle as housing developers 'Circle' the Square

It is always a strange feeling when you see your own town featured on television, especially when in the last 12 months, the reasons for that national attention, has not been in the least bit edifying.

On Friday, I witnessed a feature on Sky news about the growing concern about the amount of small venues being lost across the county, and there on my screen, was the nationally acclaimed Harlow Square being featured predominately, as they interviewed one of the Square One partnership about the size and implication of the loss of this facility to Harlow and beyond. This publicity, about its imminent closure, was on the back of it also being discussed on BBC 6 Music, BBC Essex and Music Week  and expressions of the importance of the club by members of some of the now famous bands (Like Blur, Coldplay etc.) who played there in their early days, dismayed at its loss.

It then occurred to me that the last time I remember Harlow being on the national news, was when a Polish man was attacked and killed by a gang of feral youth. It made me wonder how people outside our town must see us, as it seems everything that is reported about Harlow is negative.
Both of these storied ended up on the front page of the Star with a rosette displayed about them asking us to rejoice at Harlow Town being 70 this year! How wonderful!

My 14 year old daughter loves the Square; she recently took up playing the guitar, and with the ‘Livewire’ initiative, working with young people within the venue, got to play in a band for the first time. She is also interested in the workings of Local Government and how they can make a positive difference in the town. She was particularly pleased one night, when she witnessed every political party in the Council Chamber, vote a pledge to help save the venue, but this rare solidarity of stated intent,  later came to nothing when the Secretary of State overturned the council’s decision to block the land it stands on ,from being swallowed up by developers. This Whitehall official, thought Circle housing was helping to relocate The Square and therefore this community resource would not be lost. This was incorrect, they no longer were, they had previously offered financial help for the venue to relocate, but then withdrew it.  However, they were happy to let the Secretary of State believe that their offer still stood, because they then got what they wanted. The council decided not to appeal his decision. It is true that Harlow Council had been trying to help with finding alternative premises for the venue, but without the financial assistance needed to relocate and repurpose an existing building, nothing can come of it. Not a great day for Local decision making, not a great example to my daughter.

Young people are being consistently frozen out of the very society they are expected to contribute to, and as I was enjoying a drink in Weatherspoon’s before performing at the venues final gig, I witnessed ten to twenty teenage youths on foot and bikes, chasing somebody. They briefly invaded the pub and then started fighting outside; this is all they had to occupy their time apparently.

What is this town coming to, to lose an asset like the Square? It’s all well and good gaining a new cinema but that only helps consumers, where is the home for creators such as my daughter , or other young musicians living in a town, originally created with the pride of supporting the Arts and music, as a corner stone of its community? Or the band The Orphans who opened Saturday’s final show, 14 years of age and playing only their second ever gig, never to be able to return to improve their craft. What about my daughter who, when challenging the Councillors lack of success, by simply saying  “Where the hell am I going to go to be able continue to develop my musical career now”, threw Councillor John Clempner into an embarrassed mumble of seemingly empty promises and misinformed bluster. 

Yet the question is still valid, and still needs to be addressed.

Steve Drewett - Newtown Neurotics