My Shop Local Dilemma

Rodda’s, and I’ve no shame in saying it, is my favourite ‘local brand’.

This was last Christmas’ surprise  present from Rodda’s. It was as if they knew!

My Christmas pudding would have choices; local butter for the brandy butter, clotted cream which is in my opinion the perfect complement to its  sweet, rich stickyness or, Rodda’s newest product, custard.

photo[4] Rodda’s is not my favourite brand just because it is local (because its Cornish)  it’s my favourite because it is sooooo good!

I go out of my way to only buy Rodda’s milk – a by-product of their cream – which is premium because to make premium clotted cream Rodda’s choose their West Cornwall farms carefully. Right down to the quality of soil, the amount of rainfall, the richness of pasture, the husbandry of cows….

However, my favourite product is their crème fraîche.  I use it in much of cooking and prefer it to cream on many desserts. Or, I confess, I often have a  sneaky spoonful just on it own. If I get fat on it, well so be it, because I’ll get fat happy.

But in all the waxing happy about milk and cream and Cornishness there is on thing that makes me angrier than a wasp caught in a glass….

Every time I see the infuriating, and let’s face it,  fairly patronising message to “Shop Local, Support Local” I see red.

It hints at superiority and it insults the shopper who been valiantly trying to do those very things…

It’s an empty command, just like, “Have a Nice Day” with no real instruction. I’ve no idea how to go about a nice day especially when I’m frustrated by how  to “Shop Local”.

Would I be wrong if I thought it means buying things that have been produced locally, cutting down my food miles and supporting the local economy by buying from and supporting local businesses?

The Choose Cornish campaign was an excellent and really pro-active drive to Shop Local because it explains how it could be done and the difference it would make to the Cornish Economy.   Ruth Huxley, of Cornwall Food & Drink, and her husband’s Supermarket-free challenge was inspiring and I’d like nothing more that to be able to do there same…

However…..and this is like the big BUT that makes me furious…where I live it’s a vacuum of most things that are good and enrich the local area. For heaven’s sake, we live in area which is probably more abundant than any other park of the UK for the diversity and quality of fresh local food but in my town there is precious little local choice.

I want to be able to buy fresh fish caught in St. Austell Bay (St Austell mussels are fat, succulent and worthy of a mention) but I’m offered Iceland and 99p store instead :_( or make a special trip to Fowey or Mevagissey for a fishmonger.

I used to dream of opening a ‘local food’ shop as the ‘Farm Shop in town’ that would supply fresh locally produced and locally sourced. It works in Truro, it works in other towns and surely, since it can work in places that are way off the main routes, such as Padstow Farm Shop or  Trevaskis Farm Shop, near Hayle, because they become ‘destinations’ it could work in my town too?

But first there has to be sincerity to back those kind of ideas.  I doubt that St. Austell residents are any less keen to ‘Shop Locally’ in this town than they are to shop locally anywhere else.   There’s an appetite for it but no culture of enthusiasm to make it happen in the town centre.

In the meantime, thank goodness for the online shopping from Cornish Food Market and Cornish Food Box. I can sort of  ‘shop local’.  Just not how I want to be able to do it. Face to face with a shop keepers where I can select for myself the cut of local beef I like, where I can be told its breed and the farm it came from such as  the butchers, Philip Warren in Launceston.

But don’t get me wrong, St. Austell still has three pasty shops (I think there were seven not that long ago), we’ve an OK butcher and the two green grocers now long gone have been replaced by just one veg stall… It’s disappointingly little to draw me in to shop and support all the other shops  in a town centre that is meant to serve the biggest population in the whole of Cornwall!

We once had a Tesco in town, and although it was competition at the same time  it supported the independent shops by growing the footfall and flow around the town, but now if I want to buy the Cornish basics:  Rodda’s milk  or Davidstow Cheese,  I have to drive to Tesco, two miles from the Town Centre where I live.

There’s absolutely nothing more I’d rather do that shop in and support the place and the people where I live.

Nothing feels better than the money I spend going back into the local economy.

I’ve sat since Christmas with this post in my drafts file while I deliberated for a long time if it was right to post. Just because I feel very strongly about shopping locally doesn’t give me the right to shove it down people’s throats. In the end, shopper’s make their own choices and like to be incentivized to ‘choose’ not ‘preached to’ into feeling bad.

Please, don’t tell me to shop locally, I already do what I can, but if the ‘Local offer is not provided’ through local food shops, cafes and restaurants or it’s like being told to drink fresh spring water, because it’s good for you, in a pub.

Once there are local shops to visit regularly  for my daily needs, I’ll naturally start using the other local traders too for those less frequent purchases.

I just happen to think that facilitating that effort should not be placed on the shoulders of the customer. Shops have to provide the ‘local’ that ‘locals’ want to buy.

ChooseCornish from Cornwall Food & Drink on Vimeo.

 

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Erase the Negative. Embrace the Positive.

Poor old St. Austell, beleaguered, battle worn and blighted in particular over this last year, by division and negativity.  The refusal of an out-of-town retail development for St. Austell at Coyte Farm didn’t bring jubilation in the street, despite the ‘Stop Coyte’ spurious claims that 83% of the people were against it. In fact, judging by the sheer volume of letters, almost unanimous in the voice of disappointment, printed in the Cornish Guardian in the weeks following the planning refusal, the opposite was true.

The trouble is that every attempt to give a ‘positive’ message either limps with phrases like, ‘St. Actually-quite-nice’; is lacklustre with ‘show some nice, not depressing, pictures’; or it backfires completely as the ‘Stop Coyte Farm’ campaign certainly did.

A recent poll on the ‘Silent Majority of St. Austell speak up’ Facebook page asked the question directly: “For a year the ‘Love St. Austell, Stop Coyte Farm’ posters were on display around St. Austell town centre. What effect did this campaign message have on your attitude towards the town centre?” 217 people answered the poll. A mere 5.1% said: “It made me feel more loyal to St. Austell. The message was positive and I felt more inclined to support my local traders”.Untitled

The campaign certainly made people much more aware of Coyte Farm, but not actually in the negative way the campaign intended. St. Austell people love and are fiercely loyal to their hometown and their memories are long. The majority consensus changed as they felt the addition of M&S to the retail portfolio of St. Austell would be a genuine opportunity for the area to claw itself out of the doldrums. It also insulted them because the campaign message implied that you couldn’t LOVE St. Austell if you wanted Coyte too.

Now, this is where things start to get serious. The campaign failed absolutely to have an impact on local people’s current shopping habits and neither did it make a significant number more inclined to support their local traders. In fact, 48.8%  said that the negative message in the word ‘Stop’ made them more inclined to shop elsewhere. If a retail survey were to show that trade in the town worsened in the last 12 months, then the energy that went into stopping Coyte Farm, rather than marketing the town itself in a wholly positive way, may well have been a contributing factor.

But the point is, people who have made a deliberate and conscious choice to live in or near St. Austell, buy houses and put down roots, haven’t done so because they hate the place. Ask anyone in the street, they’ll all say how much they want the town to improve and prosper even if each personal vision might differ.

Sadly, nothing will change and negatively will continue while one side remains mistrustful of the other.  As the article regarding the resigning of the Chairman of St. Austell Bay Chamber, last week in the paper, illustrated.

It stated, that a longstanding member of the Chamber said that 145 members voted against the Coyte Farm scheme. This cannot be true as the Chamber’s membership only recently topped 70 businesses.  The report also said the Chamber had received seven applications for membership from prominent supporters of the Coyte Farm scheme. It seems an odd thing to make mention of, it also makes a prejudicial assumption, as the particular member went on to say: “If they are genuine applications from businesses in the area that’s absolutely fine.” Meanwhile, the Chamber currently has four members whose addresses are from outside the St. Austell Bay area. So what is the point he is trying to make?  Could it be that different opinions, that might shake the status quo to oppose certain schemes and support others only, are really not acceptable?

So, while we wait for new Coyte plans to be submitted and with much cynicism placed on the genuine credibility of the ‘Animal Farm’ sounding ‘Together St. Austell’ where certain developers (because they are more local) ‘are more equal than others’ and who claim to have the backing of St. Austell Bids and the Chamber of Commerce when officially they haven’t been given that mandate… a split town is the present legacy of Coyte.

Let’s hope its not to be the enduring one, because, like an incitement for civil war, the Stop Coyte lobby have made it clear: “If you don’t entirely agree with us, you must be in the other camp by default.”

The reality is that most people, residents and business people, are much more open-minded, or have yet to be decided, and would rather be able to ask frank questions, get straight answers and consider the positive merits of each and every scheme, plan and vision and not just a chosen few. The biggest single act that will change the mood is a smile with a handshake; the most positive phrase St. Austell should adopt more frequently is simply, ‘Yes’.

Love St. Austell or loath it, why does Coyte Farm divide so much opinion?

What do people really think about the Coyte Farm development? Are greater number for it or against it?

Depending on which side of the fence you sit, Coyte Farm has been put forward as  the best opportunity for St. Austell for a generation  and the very worse threat on the other? It’s both the saviour of this town and our damnation? So evangelical the nature of the debate that the ‘Love St. Austell, Stop Coyte Farm’ supporters would have it implied that you can’t do both. 

I’d really like to be able to leave this topic alone, but it has become like an itching sore and the more entrenched, polarised and blinkered the views become, the more I’m inclined to want to scratch it.

I’ve been well and truly been given the cold shoulder by the Anti Coyte Farm protestors who used to try to engage with me. Probably after I managed to summon up the courage – alone and without my bringing along  supporters – to speak up at the 2nd Cornwall Council public meeting on the subject on 30th October. I was number 25 on a long list of 63 people who signed up to speak.

Why does Coyte Farm represents many different things to different people?  In a nutshell these are the sum of all the views:

  • It’s the opportunity to have a better class or bigger retailers closer to St. Austell. We’re fed up of having to go to Truro for such shops.
  • Significant investment in a town that has the largest population in Cornwall and has suffered continuous decline in the past 30 years. Around a million pounds a week of potential spend in St. Austell is being lost to Truro.
  • It’s a catastrophic, out of scale retail park that will kill St. Austell’s town centre, destroy small businesses and the social heart of our town.
  • It’s unsustainable: the population of Cornwall and the amount of money to spend cannot support additional retail of such scale. Shops in St. Austell and other towns, Liskeard, Wadebridge, Bodmin, Lostwithiel etc.  will lose their own trade as a result.
  • The loss valuable farmland that should be kept to grow food in the future as the population grows and we have less to eat; it’s a flooding risk to Polgooth and the Pentewan stream; and a danger to pedestrians, especially those walking to school.
  • It’s outside the planning boundaries, contravenes the town plan and there are brownfield sites that should be used instead.
  • It’s a threat to Truro as it will draw back some of the millions that this catchment area spends in Truro, and it will have an impact on Truro’s own development plans for further retail. 

I stayed for three hours and heard them all. It was a very civilised debate. Nobody heckled. Everyone was heard. For sure there were more who spoke up against Coyte than for it, and compared to the public meeting in January, the quality of arguments on either side were generally much more thought through, considered and intelligent. Where I’d swung more towards Coyte after the ridiculous arguments made at the last meeting… this time, listening to the alternatives for larger shopping retail closer to town, I was back on the fence again.Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 17.02.10

Here are the arguments put against Coyte Farm and the deliberation I put forward.

1.   “It will kill St. Austell.”

We cannot blame Coyte, which is still only a planning application…I’ve known St. Austell for my whole life (almost half a century) and Coyte will most definitely not kill St. Austell.

To be absolutely clear, I mean the whole of St. Austell – the area and it’s population – not merely White River Place and the old town centre.

The thing this town needs is investment and every offer of such has to be very carefully considered on how it will improve the economic and social welfare of St. Austell.

The trouble is with all the laying blame in the past is that it blinds us from facing the present situation and diverts our energy from preparing for an increasingly changing future.

Why are the big supermarkets so successful? Because they have to be mindful of their rivals and responsive to social change and the demands of us: their customers. These grocery stores now have cafés, sell us wine, clothing and household wares, have online shops and provide banking, travel money, insurance services.  Everything that town centres once were, but made vastly more convenient. Supermarkets also predict future growth and where it is likely to come from.  The growing population size and the attractiveness of Cornwall to bring in more people to live, develop or relocate business, and the potential of an area to become more affluent.

If it were possible to make St. Austell operate like a supermarket.  The council with St. Austell’s landlords and retailers would have to pull together and follow this example, seek to have a competitive edge and operate with a common purpose St. Austell would win back shoppers as a viable alternative.  Added to which the town would be a more enjoyable experience, than our soulless supermarkets.  What is killing the town centre is negativity: poor image, parking charges, lack of imagination. If Sainsbury’s and M&S want to come to St. Austell it’s because they know that the right demographic currently live in the area and more of the same will come to live here.

The strongest argument against Coyte Farm say that as an out-of-town shopping centre it will kill St. Austell’s town centre. They forget the fact that St. Austell already has an out-of-town shopping centre that is killing us: it’s called Truro where the majority of the town’s more affluent population chose to shop and they haven’t set foot in town for ages.

St. Austell is currently a plastic bucket full of holes. It appears to have nothing of offer of value and lets opportunity seep away to shop elsewhere. The few pennies not lost through the holes get spent in Poundland and the 99p store.  In the absence of significant serious retail opportunities, we fail to keep the majority of our local population local, and  St. Austell’s shopping centre will continue to be vulnerable. Turn our back on Coyte for the sake of nostalgia or in the belief that local businesses can be saved without it is not a good move. All signs of improvement over the next 12mths, 5 years and into the future will continue to wax and wane and other future investment opportunities that we need to grasp in an attempt to put St. Austell back on the map will be fewer and further between.

2.    “It will destroy valuable farmland and green fields.”

Coyte Farm amounts to 98 acres.  Agricultural land split by the A390 and, sadly, is not large enough nowadays for a farmer to make a viable living. It has been said that the Coyte development is massive, I can only assume this is because calculations were made on the total area of the farm. Perhaps that’s how the conclusion was reached that it would be the third largest retail space in Cornwall and a bigger shopping area than the existing St Austell town centre.

The retail park including the new road improvements that will make access to St. Mewan School safer and easier, and landscaping to reduce the environmental impact is actually about 24 acres in all. I know this because I bothered to work it out using a Google map calculation tool. This amounts to about three fields mostly hidden from the approach view just as the Recycling centre on Tregongeeves Lane is hidden from view. I’ve been amazed and horrified how easily people accept what they are told rather than checking these things for themselves.

I’m also of the belief that nothing is for ever. We just can’t imagine the future. When the world changes to the extent where land to grow food is more necessary to our existence than cars and supermarkets we humans are clever enough to grown food in other ways we may not imagine, or will have removed the concrete and tarmac and sought the earth again.

3.    “The shops that want to come to Coyte can be accommodated in White River Place and on brownfields sites within the town.”

It is a big pity that White River Place doesn’t have M&S or Primark etc. I’m fairly certain that if it made good commercial sense to be in St. Austell they would have taken the opportunity to be in town already.

In all the so-called independent reports I’ve read, I’ve had to unpick statements given as empirical evidence that Coyte will have a negative effect on the town.  The scary part is that the quality of these ‘expensively produced’ reports is, in my own view crammed with ambiguous quantitive statistics presented as definitive evidence to tell us how much other retail is likely to lose out on. They are all deeply lacking in qualative data. None really prove anything, as they are not balanced by how much St. Austell already looses to Truro and so forth and how much spend Coyte could bring back to the town as a whole.

They’ve used examples to suggest Coyte will have an adverse effect on St. Austell that are irrelevant to Cornwall (I think it’s more important to reference Hayle – has that out-of-town retail park had an adverse or positive effect on Hayle?). I’ve looked at Margate. Google it yourselves. It’s really not comparable as a real example – scale and context – by any stretch of the imagination. Balance has to show cases where out-of-town shopping has improved the quality of an area as well as those that don’t so that the the likely impact, positive and negative, can be properly predicted in this case and plans adjusted accordingly.

They also ignore the topography of the town completely. The town centre is wrapped around the side of a hill. White River Place has helped to increase the amount of level shopping area, however in these reports some of the possible sites are absurd. People won’t walk uphill between retail areas, especially if the route is not lined with other shops they are likely to visit on the way.

No report examines if Coyte might improve the overall economy of the whole of St. Austell? The fact is that turning our backs on Coyte will have a much more damaging effect on St. Austell’s regeneration and reputation which is, frankly, pretty poor. Without a retail magnet, people won’t come back to shop and people won’t want to come here to live which means that the value of our homes is also suppressed.

I’m not saying that St. Austell should say ‘yes’ without asking lots questions. Potential flooding, busier roads, the environmental impact and the effect on the town centre are all negatives that have to be offset as much as possible. And it is important that the developers’ offered investment of ½ million to the town centre is used to the best possible effect. Ultimately, this is a one of a kind opportunity to bring credibility back to the area.

I said back in January that Coyte shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. I was advocating an open-minded view but I was accused of not knowing what I was talking about. So I’ve been very careful to read the reports and listen to all the arguments and do my own research. I have no agenda – so I have nothing to personally gain. I don’t run a business – but I am sympathetic to those who do and are struggling; I’m not being paid to voice my opinion. I just live here and I choose to live here is because I love St. Austell and wish to invest my livelihood in my local area.

Ultimately it cemented my view that a decision has to be made. On balance I would much prefer to see Coyte get its approval, with stringent conditions attached. For the sake of the whole of  St.  Austell  I believe this plan is better than the alternative without it.

However, after the meeting I have to add a post script. An alternative proposal  to Coyte is a possibility. It’s not without great merit but is it ultimately better in the immediate and the long-term?

To be honest, I’m not sure.

Next, we were told, could be interested in the Halfords Store near B&Q; M&S Food might come into White River Place; the  Restormel Offices could be pulled down to create another supermarket or Higher Trewhiddle Farm – where Westcountry Land have a similar scheme for housing and would like to include a petrol station and supermarket…. The proximity to the centre of the town is closer and some use brownfield sites.  I have to remain uncertain as the arguments to suggest these were better were put forward by the very developers and owners of these schemes. Plus, we’ve had Master Plans made for St. Austell before that resulted in nothing other than the same situation of stagnation that we had before.

More debate.

Super Slow #Superfast Cornwall

Superfast-vanNormally, I can be unbelievably patient and reasonable if I know what’s going on. I have a child with a Global Developmental Delay so I’ve grown accustomed to not having my expectations met. He won’t catch up and be ‘normal’ I understand that. However, in the last year an iPad has become his best friend as it allows him to join in with the rest of the world  for a bit, and technology is moving at such a pace there are communication programmes that will help him, eventually, to speak to us.

So please don’t get me wrong,  I’m not some hot-headed Mrs. Angry who spits her dummy out if not placed at the top of the queue.  But, every so often I have spat with my internet connection which drops out from time to time and grinds my pace of work (I’m self-employed) to nothing.  It has been an ongoing ‘promise’ for some time now. Superfast Cornwall shout about themselves all over billboards for us to get connected and I’ve been screaming “yes, yes” and registering my interest of “keep me in loop” for three years now. But even though I’m keen….I’m apparently shouting from a black hole right in the centre of St. Austell that keeps missing getting connected.

The whole sorry tale is best told here by my other half:

In terms of superfast communications time travels ever faster.

The summer of 2011 is so far behind us in technical history that it ranks on the timeline alongside Noah and the building of the Pyramids.

Back in June of 2011, about the time Noah was fitting the rudder, we were offered, as part of the pioneering surge for Cornwall spearhead the nation into BT infinity and beyond, to have the fibre optic link brought to us at the speed of light.

Our driveway was dug up and a conduit laid, with impressive efficiency but with nothing in it, just a short wait for the superfast cable to be pulled through.

We’re still waiting.

A few phone calls, with words like, ‘soon’, ‘shortly’ and ‘imminent’ were uttered with reassuring tones, but we’re still waiting.

Snow fell and melted away, the ark was probably afloat on the melt-water by now. The imminent time scale similarly drifted by, and we carried on – waiting.

Our house was demolished, and its replacement was built with a conduit to the site for the proposed junction box, the piece of blue rope inside waiting to pull through the superfast link. But we’re still waiting.

Then burst of activity, a brand new telegraph pole was erected, next to the proposed site of the proposed junction box, the piece of blue rope was nailed to it along with nothing else. It too is waiting for a continental drift to tip the axis of orbit. The Olympics came and went with numerous world records being broken … but we’re still waiting.

A BT Open Reach manager, a Mr Smith, took it upon himself to ‘Personally take possession of the case’ and to drive things through. Vans turned up, the drivers all got out, looked at our proud new telegraph pole, shook their heads and drove off; three in one day. ‘It’s only got to come across South Street’ – Were still waiting. And Mr Smith retired, the manager who replaced him gave all the same platitudes with justified embarrassment of his organisation’s impotence.

There wasn’t any snow in the following winter, it forgot to come along with the speed of light Superfast fibre optic cable.

Then in summer 2013, a burst of activity in South Street, traffic lights, digging the road three nights in succession till 2am, outside a block of flats, such was the urgency to progress the job with utmost efficiency. The noise was horrific, perhaps the ark was running aground. Then with great anticipation – nothing. We’re still waiting.

Time moves on, the new manager has been transferred to the Isles of Scilly, perhaps it’s part of the continuing hex spreading to those who dare to try to help us, one retires and another is exiled to far off-shore archipelagoes.

So we’re ending the third year since we were invited to grasp the dangling super fast carrot….. but silence has once again fallen on our ‘case’ that had been given an escalated status by Mr. Smith this time last year.

I suspect a lot of money has already been invested on not quite getting us connected. An underground conduit dug to drive the fibre optic cable through and straight into our house; a brand new telegraph pole to also connect us overhead as well; three nights of road works interruptions on South street to bring the cabling across the road and under the pavement….

Alas, we’re still waiting.  The wait might not be as bad if we knew we weren’t forgotten, or a date (however distant) was on the horizon,  but my emails about my issue don’t escape the black hole void we dwell in and get connected to superfastcornwall.org either now it seems!

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Boscundle Manor – Restaurant Review

If I said that Boscundle was an entirely new discovery wouldn’t be the truth. Locals have quietly considered this small, chic hotel – possibly too quietly – as having one of the best restaurants within St. Austell. However, best-kept secrets can sometime be skewed.

I’d not though about eating at Boscundle for years. I like my food experience to stimulate my imagination and not just my taste buds and my assumption was, based on its country manor location, that the offering would be very formal, conventional and a tad expensive. But I love those terrific moments of epiphany when you can happily say, ‘I was wrong. I’ve now seen the light’.photo[4]

The experience for me has just blown my tongue’s nerve endings out of hibernation. I love food experiences when they are so good that you go on dining on the memory of it for weeks, maybe even years, afterwards and this was most definitely one of those. The other half and I will still be asking each other ‘what magic had been performed in a seemingly simple yet velvety smooth Pea veloute to make it taste better and fresher than fresh peas straight from the pod?’ for years to come.  This is not toe-curling over-enthusiasm being expressed here. I’m too British for that. Quite simply this was a beautiful introduction to six amazing courses of a superb tasting menu at an amazingly reasonable price of £49 per head. Added to which we were treated to a glass of Prosecco and a plate of delicious canapés while we read the menu.  It will now go down as one of the best stand out meals I’ve possible ever had.

My mother once worked as a cook and she effortlessly produced thousands of family meals all through her lifetime. I too, cook meals from scratch almost everyday. It means that a meal that’s been cooked for me is always a treat. I like to think I’m not a boring cook but I am a bored cook and I most want eat food that’s genuinely delicious. Luckily in Cornwall, we’re completely spoiled for fresh produce, and have a swelling gastronomic reputation enhanced by celebrity restaurants and a healthy collection of Michelin stars. I can rattle off the names of a good dozen male chefs who have very notable reputations, but only knew of two women in Cornwall who ran restaurants worth making a beeline for. How does that imbalance occur? Scores of women like my mother and I, effortlessly bang out good meals all their lives and we remain ordinary. It’s as if men are in possession of some superior ‘chef gene’ that transcends decent cooking into culinary brilliance. This thought had surfaced in my brain and grew with certainty with each exquisite course. It shames me that I assumed that just because the food was so carefully constructed it could only be man-made.

photoThe smooth pea soup served in a witty black, with white spots, coffee cup had three whole peas to be discovered like sweet bursts of summer in my childhood’s kitchen garden.

photo[5]The second course that followed was a flavourful and densely meaty ham hock terrine with celeriac, a hint of mustard and apple and caramel dots.

photo[3]The third course caught me by surprise. Incredulous that the placing of a mackerel fillet on spidery fennel and orange segments with a cider and caper dressing should work was extraordinary. Not to be deconstructed and examined but best taken as a mouthful of all the flavours combined. Naturally it seemed wrong to have fish with orange and yet together it tasted… bizarre… but right.

photoThe only course that seemed more ordinary, but no less delicious, was the main: Breast of Cornish duck, confit leg, fondant potato, cherry sauce. Saying that just proves how much I was being spoilt.

Finally, in rapturous awe, although we did our best to slow our dining experience to snail’s pace, we drew into the pudding zone.

photo[2]I wonder have you ever had a chocolate crème brulée? A piece of heaven that I can’t help wondering why something so obvious isn’t everywhere. My husband has a thing about chocolate and one tiny spoonful and he was summoning the waitress. “The thing is,” he says, “this is too good to have now. Would you mind taking it away now and bringing it back so I can enjoy it with my coffee?” I gave an apologetic smile on his behalf but she was very obliging and perfectly happy to humour him. Perhaps she should have mentioned that there was to be petite fours with the coffee and spared his later blushes.

photoPudding didn’t end there; the final delight was out of this world: Strawberry and champagne jelly, honeycomb and elderflower sorbet. Not only a thing of beauty that held an assortment of delicious blue and red berries in suspended flotation, but full of surprising sparkling tingles on the tongue. It was fresh, light and a perfect end that I did my best to finish slowly.  Clever, clever chef I thought, turning food into divine. Boscundle’s head chef and hidden talent is one to watch. Remember the name: Jenny Reed, a girl, hurrah!

Boscundle, St Austell, PL25 3RL UK

01726 813557, e-mail, reservations@boscundlemanor.co.uk

www.boscundlemanor.co.uk

This review featured in Cornwall Today Magazine September 2013

photo[1]

Knightor Winery and Restaurant, perfect for the Cornish mizzle.

photo[3]

“What is it that’s quintessential about an English wine?” it’s a question that James Thomas, wine maker at Knightor Winery, and I are pondering. My nose, at this point, has just been given a polite introduction to Knightor’s own blended aromatic white wine called ‘Trevannion’. A mix of Siegerrebe, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Grape varieties suited to the vagaries of the British climate. If I’m to use English character to describe its taste, quintessentially speaking, it is definitely worthy of respect. This just might be the Stephen Fry of wines: pleasantly aromatic, a little fruity and refreshingly acidic.

“For example, Aussie wines,” James, says, “are frequently described as being robust in character. All that sunshine boosts the grapes and apparently packs a healthy punch of fruity flavour into their wines.” However, rather like the British character, “Grape varieties suited to the English climate and the wines they produce are modest, understated and much more subtle.

Knightor is a brand new winery just a mile from the Eden Project. Being situated high above St. Austell Bay on the edge of the clay country is perhaps not the most obvious location for a new boutique winery producing its own high quality wine. However there is logic, “Knightor is actually equidistant”, explains the owner, Adrian Derx, from each of their two vineyards. Currently, Knightor has 16,000 6-7-year-old vines in production across 5 ½ hectares on one location, to the west near Porthscatho, and the other in the east near Downderry.

Harvest from these two vineyards is not all that Knightor relies upon. “We also work with other English growers to ensure we can maintain quality supply in poor seasons,” James reasons. “At Knightor we use predominantly ‘whole bunch’ pressing which gives a very fine, high quality juice, then the fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks, with small parcels also aged in French oak barrels”. In addition to two white wines, Knightor also have a First Vintage Rosé 2010 which won a gold medal in the United Kingdom Vineyards Association awards, “and our sparkling wine is going through secondary ferment in bottle to be ready next year,” James adds.photo[2]

James’ parents have their own vineyard on St. Martin’s on the Isles of Scilly which started his interest in wine making, although it wasn’t his initial intention to follow a wine making career. It just happened that he found himself in Australia working his visa on a number of Australian vineyards, most notably Bannockburn Vineyards and Pettavel. However, one winemaking mentor encouraged James to go back to university and properly study the winemaking process.

“The process of making wines in the New World is ultra scientific to ensure consistency and I have certainly been very influenced by winemaking techniques from Australia,” James tells me, “but it doesn’t mean that I plan to conform to this sort of ‘New World’ model for mass-produced supermarket wines. At Knightor, we take a more ‘artisan’ approach to winemaking that comes from working with small parcels of fruit, from known vineyards.  It’s a leaf out of the Old World, letting each wine say something about it’s own origins, to be it’s own point of reference and not mimic anything else. It’s too early days for English wines to talk about that elusive concept of terroir, however, we can still make wines that are honest and true to their origins. Wines with a certain precision and elegance displaying character as well. Our wines are ‘English’, first and foremost and by combining the two approaches, we will be able to produce distinct vintages of very special wines.”

Knightor is not just about wine. Uniquely it’s also a winery with a restaurant. The winery-restaurant concept is widely known in the New World, where the aim is to promote the synergy between the two, but it’s a relatively new in Britain. The chef, Angelo Bruno, who has had experience from working in top restaurants in London, Italy and the Balearics, brings an eclectic mix of Mediterranean flavours to his dishes and the dishes always compliment the wines. “Some people will come here because it’s a restaurant and will be pleasantly surprised to be able to order a glass or a bottle of our own wine,” Adrian explains. “Other people will come for the wine first and foremost but when they eat freshly prepared tapas and mezze dishes they’ll discover a new element to the wine.”

Outside its typically Cornish ‘out of season’ weather. You can almost taste it on the tongue: A chill drizzle, damp earth and a misty grey sky. The cool fermented Madeleine Angevine 2011 that James has just given me to try is light and very refreshing but at the same time infused with aromatic floral flavours. A glance through the window has me thinking, could be that English wines taste like our climate? In the case of the Madeleine, it’s like elderflower blossom drenched with Cornish crisp, coastal mizzle.

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Not only are these English wines refreshing, I’m actually glad to be enjoying a crisp white on a winter’s day. Food and wine matching is obvious but maybe the English quirk would be to also match wine with our weather?

For more information:

Knightor Winery and Restaurant, Trethurgy, St. Austell, PL26 8YQ

Tel: 01726 851101

 

Rebranding St. Austell

Now this is a speculative post…

Can a town become a brand? Like a product to sell? Is it possible, through a simple little image and a snappy strap line to start turning around a stubborn mindset; getting folk on board; singing the same tune and believing that the implied values in the brand are true?

It’s now quite normal to talk about ‘brand Cornwall’… and yet this county was never actually ‘branded’, it just became ‘cool’ somehow. The ‘Outside’ looked at Cornwall and started to want a piece of it. The ‘Inside’ marketed the choice bits and so the reputation grew. Attach the words ‘Cornwall’ or ‘Cornish’ to anything here and everyone wants a tangible piece of it.

With BIDs, maybe St. Austell has the opportunity to create its own ‘new’ brand identity  for which is can market itself as a changing and positive town. It can’t expect the lovely ‘Cornish’ label to turn it round. Cornish is ‘seaside’ and quaint little picturesque fishing villages full of second homes.  Truth be known, St. Austell has been branded by others as ‘St. Awful’. More than most it  desperately needs an image face-lift.

A new brand identity will need to have resonance with St. Austell’s heritage and its local environment; it must be honest, cherished and true; inspirational without being over the top; have equal meaning (even if the sentiment is interpreted differently) for local business, local population and with visitors alike.

In rebranding St. Austell the aim must be to create as many positive meanings and messages as possible.  The more open the message, the more it can be used in all sorts of different contexts, and the more visible and powerful it can become. Unequivocally the brand’s message must unambiguously positive and inclusive.

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Olympic Torch Relay (South Street, St. Austell)

It also has to be future proof.

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Holy Trinity Church (end of Fore Street)

The three Cs of branding

A brand has to be nurtured. It takes time, thought and consistent application. But it does not have to take big budgets. It is a mindset that requires both discipline and passion. It’s about caring for the big picture and the small detail. When managing your brand, keep the three Cs at the front of your mind.

Credibility

A brand has been described as “everything you say and everything you do.” A credible brand will always align the way a business behaves with the way it is portrayed. This close connection will ensure that your customer’s instinctive reaction is one of trust and belief in your brand not one of doubt and uncertainty.

Clarity

A strong brand is based on clearly defined values, that are important to your customers and that differentiate you from your competitors. A clear understanding of these values throughout your business will ensure that they are communicated clearly through “everything you say and everything you do.”

Consistency

The value of a brand comes through recognition and recognition comes from consistent application of every visible manifestation of your brand, at every ‘touch point’ that your customers experience.

Creating a brand identity for St. Austell is essential.

The purpose of a brand is to communicate, very simply, a message.  The best brand logos are instantly recognisable for what they represent. They become a point of focus, ownership, unifying pride and a reminder of shared values.

Although, St. Austell describes itself as a ‘Historic Market Town’ this has no relevant meaning today. Consequently, the lack of any active market or market day, the town has little shared sense of historic market character or a specific identity for which to feel pride. St. Austell doesn’t appear to know what sort of place it is now and in it’s future, or how best to market itself to visitors and investors.

St. Austell BIDs needs to powerfully state that St. Austell, as a centre for commerce, but also for visitors, that the town and the area is vibrant, and worth stopping by.

The biggest dilemma is how and who should be responsible for creating this new identity? In this town everyone is a stakeholder. In creating a ‘brand’ identity for a town it will have more ‘legs’ if it can also be used in advertising, tourism, events, signage, local politics, rallies, lobbies and so on. Therefore, engaging the public as well as businesses in the rebranding process is more likely to ensure its success.

Dispelling the Negative Image.

The problem is that St. Austell has suffered over the years with a bit of an identity crisis. It has been called “Snozzle” as well as “St. Awful” a lot in recent years. The retort, “St. Actually-Quite-Nice” is a bit too polite and apologetic and, although it may be inspirational, “St. Awesome”, is likely to encourage ribaldry and criticism. ‘Awesome’ is subjective and most people will agree, even if the desire is to the contrary, that St. Austell currently can’t pretend to deliver much on ‘Awe’.

Eco Town.

There’s a move to brand St. Austell on ‘Green’ credentials. Personally, I can’t think it is likely to be effective even if the intention is worthy.

If you saw a sign claiming: The Green Capital (or Heart) of Cornwall, what do you expect to see? Green buildings? A town surrounded by green fields and trees? (Isn’t all of Cornwall like this) or if ‘green’ in the ‘eco’ sense, how interested is a visitor likely to be? They might expect  to see jute shopping bags, solar panels and windmills (nothing special or original there) and although White River’s BREEAM status is good, it is not, however, visible or tangible. St. Austell can list ‘Eco’ as one of its credentials but as a message it is too specific. Added to which it may appear to alienate businesses that are unable to demonstrate a ‘green’ policy or environmentally friendly credentials.

I fiddled with my limited capability to produce this. It’s not as I’d like it to be. The font is rubbish and looks a bit dated but I just wanted to give it a go.

So here it is. An example of a ‘brand’ logo that includes a strap line to convey a message about St. Austell. 

Heart of the Bay 2

Rationale:

  • St. Austell Bay is already a term used, so is not unfamiliar.
  • ‘Heart’ has many meanings:  It suggests ‘Spirit’ and ‘Affection’, it refers to the heart as a ‘blood pumping organ’ which makes it also symbolic for pumping a sense of life-blood for the region, Heart is also ‘Character’ and St. Austell’s character is something that needs a positive image. Heart is also at the “Centre’.
  • ‘Bay’ is a curved inlet of sea and, land with curving hills around, from the clay region to the coast and stretching from the Gribbin to the Dodman heads. Bay is an accurate geographical description for St. Austell and bays conjure up the thought that they are special places of natural beauty.
  • The white font is a nod to the china clay heritage of the past; the green is both the greening of the clay tips today and the ‘eco’ green town for the future. The font is curved to reflect the shape of the bay; heart suggests where St. Austell sits in the bay.

Branding – can it really work for St. Austell?

A brand is not just another word for a logo.  It is about values and vision; it is the personality and the promise that it makes to people or customers. St. Austell’s brand values will define what the town stands for and will inform decision-making on many levels, from policy making to attract new business and investment. Branding appeals to the emotions and people will have an instant emotional reaction to a brand. The impact of that instant reaction is an opportunity to connect with customers at an instinctive level. Brands also help to build a level of trust and confidence and this is much easier with a strong brand based on these values.

Six big benefits of branding

1. It acts as an influence of choice

By pressing the emotional buttons that appeal to target customers, a strong, recognisable brand will act as a ‘short cut’ in their decision making process. Instead of dithering over alternatives or meticulously comparing options where there is no clear point of difference, it is easier to choose St. Austell – because they know what it stands for.

2. It creates loyalty and advocacy

Brands go beyond making promises tangible benefits. They go one step further to create an emotional bond.

3. It enables commanding a price premium

A strong brand encourages intangible benefits people get from associating themselves with a brand. Cornwall is now talked about in terms of a brand and this attracts a premium.

4. It provides a vital differentiator from other Cornish towns

Finding and maintaining a point of difference is not easy, particularly if the focus is solely on tangible benefits that are also found elsewhere. The fact that a brand is based on emotional, intangible benefits does mean careful management of the brand, but it also means that those facets are considered unique.

5. It provides a platform for growth 

A strong brand will act as a launch pad for expanding business operations. Recognition of what a brand stands for can be transferred to new markets much more easily than starting from scratch with each new development.

6. It provides a framework to integrate all the ways St. Austell businesses can present themselves. 


So, there you go. I’ve said it. Thrown my opinion once again into the ring….

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St. Austell, at the heart of the bay…


 

Playing Devil’s Advocate* (In the Coyte Farm debate)

EPSON scanner imageI am (very much) pro St. Austell.

I’m actually pro keeping green fields and farmland rather than covering them in swathes of little-box housing estates.

I’m also pro, despite the wind tunnel effect its lack of covered space, of White River Place.

St. Austell has been built on a hillside, with the main street wrapping around one of its contours. The topography, that gives St. Austell Town Centre’s  its unrestricted views over countryside, also inhibits the town centre’s size.

White River’s construction, cleverly raising the new shopping level to the same level as the old town centre and concealing multi story parking within it  is, quite simply, genius. At the same time it enabled an expansion of the retail space of the town.

I’m also anti lots of things too, and capable of my own wild ideas for change. Some can make me quite emotional.

Brown field sites being left derelict rather than re-developed for housing or something other seems criminal.  The negligent waste of old, important historic buildings that should be restored and reused… being left untouched or worse still, pulled down, feels utterly insane.

The grip of multi-nationals, greed of bankers, landlords, developers, over dominance of supermarkets can all have me shaking my fist in my sleep.

But, I also take issue with one-sided lobbyists and withholders of information who reveal only a partial picture that suits them. Or passionate extremists who demonize anyone who doesn’t fully support their argument. I particularly dislike being patronised, or told what I should think, as if I don’t have  a mind capable of weighing up all the issues on my own.

These are the questions that I want answers to:

  • How will the environmental impact, with increased risk of flooding, from concrete, tarmac and loss of farmland be offset?
  • What are the plans to manage increased traffic flows near schools and pedestrian areas near any new development?
  • How were the impact assessment scores calculated to estimate how much established businesses might be damaged? If there is the possibility for so much margin, explain why one calculation method is likely to be more accurate than another.
  • Is the suggestion of long-term, sustainable jobs real or imagined? Please give me positive examples as well as negative ones.
  • Will it, or will it not, bring more money into the local economy of St.Austell and how?
  • What’s the amount of local spend is currently going to Truro, Plymouth and online shopping and how much could St. Austell (with or without Coyte) be able to claw back?

But every answer has to be questioned and examined too. How reliable is the source? When was it published? Is it likely to show bias? How relevant is the evidence to the context and so on…critical-thinking-cartoon

Tell me to ‘Stop’ I’m going to ask ‘Why? What’s in it for whom?’ My critical head starts to play devil’s advocate. I want all the answers, and every answer raises more questions.

And it’s my business to know the importance of choosing emotive words carefully. Any copy writer worth their salt knows that selecting the right word to convey a message is really, really important. Get it wrong and the intention can just backfire creating more dissent than unification.

Isn’t it preferrable to tell people what they can do to make things better, and make them feel good about themselves. For example,  the ‘Choose Cornish’ campaign: If everyone who lives in the county spent just 50p a week on local produce from a local supplier, it would deliver over £10 million into Cornwall’s economy in a year. The message is simple, achievable, embraceable, but most important, you won’t be demonized when you buy something that isn’t Cornish. And actually, supermarkets have to adapt to people’s ethical buying habits and consciences.

The scale of the Coyte Farm development is said to have “Transformational Change” potential for St. Austell and the surrounding area. It has the potential to be the town’s best ever ‘Opportunity’ or  worst possible ‘Threat’. That’s why I raised the question; “Can we afford to reject Coyte without fully exploring every detail that surrounds it?” I need to add, “Is this the type of Transformational Change that we can negotiate to make our lives better?”

WHAT IS TRANSFORMATIONAL CHANGE? (see video below)

My last point is that I am always happy to have my mind changed. Not as a woman’s prerogative but because I wish always to be able to remain open-minded. I may have written a pro Coyte piece but I’d still be ‘jury’s out’ on the decision if I happened to have the power to vote on the matter.

I’ll support Coyte as a Sainsbury’s and as an out-of -town retail area if the retail area does not compete for the same shops as in the Town Centre as I believe that Coyte, could change the way that people regard St. Austell and improve the economy of the St. Austell area.

But unlike Bert Biscoe, I’ve understood that Coyte would be a site for big retailers such as M&S, or hopefully big retail giants, the likes of  Ikea, that can’t be accommodated in town, but would bring shoppers back to the area. I’ve never thought it would replace the town centre.

However if Coyte is built merely to entice what little we have in our current high street away – then I was wrong – and I’ll take great issue with that.

I’ll give my support if drainage can be managed to pose no risk of flooding the Pentewan Valley; if the retail area can be largely hidden by trees and landscaping; if access to St. Mewan Primary School is made safer; and if offset money is used towards projects such as turning brownfield sites into productive market gardens, or the Market House into something amazing…. (Wild ideas in the offing for which I’d expect someone to play devil’s advocate with me).

However, I’m not yet convinced by the need for all the housing on green fields in Phase 2 of Coyte. For that reason the Trewhiddle Farm plans, a supermarket with houses in pre-application planning and directly adjacent to Coyte, wouldn’t get my support either…. and interestingly this developer spoke against the Coyte development (Well he would, wouldn’t he?)

devil’s advocate is someone who takes a position he or she does not necessarily agree with, for the sake of debate. In taking this position, the individual taking on the devil’s advocate role seeks to engage others in an argumentative discussion process. The purpose of such process is typically to test the quality of the original argument and identify weaknesses in its structure, and to use such information to either improve or abandon the original, opposing position.

It can also refer to someone who takes a stance that is seen as unpopular or unconventional, but is actually another way of arguing a much more conventional stance.

What should St. Austell do?

St. Austell BIDWhat should St. Austell do with £130,000 a year to spend on its Town Centre?

The successful vote for adopting a BIDs scheme for St. Austell effectively means that there will be cash towards turning the Town Centre into a better place.

And at a time when the town is being split into ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ out-of-town retail development camps it couldn’t come at a better time.

Watch the video to see what other BID schemes have done for their area

“So what’s BIDs?” my other half asked.

They’ll be a lot of people asking the same. A BID basically means a ‘Business Improvement District’ and even  tho’ I personally hadn’t a vote my fingers were firmly crossed that St. Austell’s businesses would vote ‘Yes’.

St. Austell’s BID will become the 150th Bid approved in the UK and the fifth in Cornwall following Truro, Falmouth, Newquay and Camborne.

The votes, in a formal ballot, were counted on Thursday 31st January, and with an overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote it showed majority support for the scheme.  BIDs unlocks £600,000 of additional funding, specifically ring-fenced for St. Austell’s  town centre, over the next five years…

Still don’t get it?

BIDs are about new investment, not about placing additional tax burdens on businesses.  Where BIDs are successful, businesses will see a return on their levy.  There is clear evidence of the success of BID schemes which have led to increased footfall, higher spending, cleaner, safer and more vibrant towns.

BIDs can operate for up to five years before businesses have the opportunity to renew the BID through voting on a new proposal.  So far, 52 out of 58 BIDs that have been through renewal ballots have been approved and started a second five-year term, three out of three have renewed for a third term, demonstrating that businesses can see the benefits that the BID has delivered.

BIDs are driven by business for business benefit and operate within clearly defined geographical areas.  Ratepayers, including those in the public and voluntary sectors, pay an extra levy (2% for ST Austell) on their rateable value, money that remains in a local fund to deliver projects to improve the local economy.  This levy income can also be used to lever in additional funding during the lifetime of the BID programme.

BIDs are governed by businesses – a ‘not for profit’ BID Company is established with a board of directors who oversee the programme. The Board comprises private sector representation from businesses within the BID boundary, the majority, if not all, of whom are levy payers.  Under the legislation, Cornwall Council is responsible for collection of the levy but then transfers this money over at regular intervals to the BID company to spend in accordance with the BID proposal.

BID schemes fund additional activities. Unlike business rates, the money doesn’t go to Central Government – it remains in St Austell to be spent in accordance with the final BID proposal developed in consultation with businesses.

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St. Austell’s Town Centre

Chris Witt, Chairman of the St. Austell BID Steering Group said, “This is a fantastic result for St Austell!  After months of consulting, canvassing and convincing, this small group have achieved what we set out to achieve all those months ago.  We have spoken to the businesses of the town and with limited funds, already addressed key issues raised – driving footfall and parking.  A new Loyalty card has been launched and a cheap parking initiative trialled.  Now look out!  We have major resources to put our town back on the map and show everyone what St Austell is all about!”

Stephen Rushworth, Cornwall Council’s Portfolio Holder for Economy and Regeneration, said “I am delighted that businesses in St Austell are supporting this initiative.  Nationally town centres are facing huge challenges and to see the local business community in St Austell coming together to steer the future of their town centre is very encouraging.”

From 1st April, £120,000 will be available to spend on projects that the businesses themselves have indicated as priorities, by being pro-active and dynamic in attracting local people and visitors to St Austell.

It will be interesting to see what they will do. Let’s hope for innovative and interesting schemes…rather than a ‘copy-cat’ conservative approach. A dynamic change to St.Austell’s current self-image would be pretty awesome…

Ideas please?

Love St. Austell? Love Coyte Farm.

I went to a Public meeting organised by Cornwall County Council the other evening. I even signed up to speak which felt like a big step out of my normal comfort zone.

There are three proposed plans for new supermarkets on the western edges of St. Austell. The biggest, and the most contentious proposal, is Coyte Farm because as a planning application it’s supermarket and a massive retail park as well. Making it bigger than St. Austell’s Town Centre retail area as it is.

Out of 218 attendees at the meeting 47 people had signed up to give their two pence worth. The for and against the Coyte Farm proposal, I thought, were pretty even split. The other two applications really didn’t feature in anyone’s minds at all.

I went because the gist of a piece in my local newspaper had really irked me. The slant of the feature was “Love St. Austell, Stop Coyte Farm.”

It irritated me because there are sadly more people who’d say that they hate St. Austell, than those who claim to love it.

…So, who in their right mind, except a blinkered minority, would come up with a rallying cry like that? It made me cross because it said that “shoppers were disloyal not to be supporting their local town” and that if we let Coyte Farm be built it would kill the town.” I was incensed enough to write a letter on the topic to the local paper. My point was balanced. I wasn’t for or against but I said that Coyte Farm might also be the greatest opportunity the town had ever had and it shouldn’t be rejected before understanding the bigger picture.

Coyte farmFIRSTLY, I’m a bit hesitant as the next person about saying ‘yes’ to ripping up green fields to build supermarkets and shopping centres; but I can’t stand scaremongering without genuine evidence either… To me is it disingenuous, as the people most interested in blocking retail development are the ones who fear competition and worry that they might have to work a bit harder to draw to customers and business to the town.

I could understand people getting up in arms if this was a vibrant little town, full of independent specialist shops, but it ain’t.  The line: “This development is going to rip the heart out of St. Austell” might have had resonance if this was Truro. Instead the general response from local people is, “Why would I worry about saving St. Austell when there’s nothing here to save?”

The nub of the issue is that St. Austell’s shopping town centre, like scores of small towns across the UK, is struggling. And just like everywhere else, people generally love where they live and will loyally defend their home town if anyone else choses to rubbish it…. so no news there. St. Austell’s not unique. Except that in Cornwall it is significant.  This is the county’s largest urban area, and we’ve all been longing to make this town something special. Special enough that we even bid for city status in The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Year.  Scratch the surface and the loyalty to the town is here alright.

BUT, and this is to cut a long story short: I have lived in St. Austell,  practically all of my life – I was baptised in the town’s church – and have known it well over 40 years. Hand on heart, I’ve seen this town decline for 30 years from a lively little town to a sad and rather dreary place to shop.

AND, I would like to be proud of where I live (and generally I am). But where I’ll happily tell everyone I live in Cornwall, I often gloss over the fact I’m from St. Austell.

My son once came home from school near to tears. “Only scum live in St. Austell,” he’d been told. It’s harsh and I was angry to have it implied that I am scum and that I’ve chosen to bring up my children in a town only to have them labelled as scum too. But that’s kids for you, isn’t it?  Except that the town has another wider reputation as ‘St. Awful’. It’s difficult to shake, even if all who live here agree that it is ‘St. Actually-quite-nice’.

HOWEVER, St. Austell has been blighted by appalling decision makers with short-termed views and self-interest over the years and these people are just as prevalent as they ever were.  It started with the rejection of Marks & Spencer in the 1960s because it threatened the local shopkeepers (although I’ve been told this is rumour not fact)… the net result is that St. Austell (i.e. those who were in power to take strategic decisions) have never taken ownership for the town’s failure, it is always something other – be it the building of a Tesco and Asda, Par Market, not having a Town Council and so on, that has caused its failure to thrive and continual decline. Coyte Farm will just be another convenient scapegoat. “It’s not us, it’s them.”

It took 7 long years to rather expensively build the new White River development in the town centre with a new cinema and shops. There was a lot of hope that it would turn the place around but the  final plan was immensely unpopular and the people felt disenfranchised because despite all of the public consultation meetings, we never got what we asked for: an iconic, undercover shopping area that would have made us a destination. When it finally opened we were right in the middle of the recession and consequently its new shopping units have never all been filled because the sad fact is that they are too big and expensive for the independents and too small, and without sufficient footfall and consumer spend, for strong retail brands to take them up.  It’s true, its brought more people back to town, but much of that boost has come through putting on events, reducing the parking charges and then new 99p store!

I came away from the meeting, after all my research and careful fence-sitting, leaning on the side of the proposed new Coyte Farm development and I’ll tell you why:

  1. St. Austell has always been too quick to say ‘no’. We’ve become a town with a negative reputation and its high time we showed the courage to take a ‘transformational change’ decision if any more investors are ever going take St. Austell seriously.
  2. Take the personal out of it. This is not about me or my intended shopping habits even if I do want Sainsbury’s and M&S nearby. It’s about opportunities for young people, for familes and the whole of the community . St. Austell may be the largest urban area but it’s shopping centre is hemorrhaging at the seams. It has no draw from the wider area and even its own townsfolk flock to Truro or Plymouth for their retail therapy. Draw people back to the area and it creates more jobs, more local spending power, more business’ benefit, house prices rise and generally the whole area becomes more desirable and better valued.
  3. View it as an opportunity. Why, for heaven’s sake does the Chamber of Commerce and Town Council throw up their hands and cry: “It will kill us?” Surely the obvious approach is to negotiate. It is not in the developers interest that the Town Centre should fail. Negative equity has ripples and it affects the whole community. So ask them what they will do to help support the Town Centre to thrive as well?
  4. Competition makes for better, smarter business. Survivors in this harsh and rapidly changing retail world are those who adapt and innovate to take a more customer centric approach. Perhaps the lack of ‘shopper loyalty’ is actually the result of a ‘lack of customer focus.’ People do want to shop in and support their local town and therefore is it disappointing to find the town doesn’t offer what they need and forces them to look elsewhere. I live 2 minutes on foot from the town centre and I’d say that 90 % of my non-food shopping is done online or in Truro because St. Austell’s lovely traders (not I don’t want them to fail) insist on filling their shops with things I don’t generally want to buy at all or very often.  Most independent retailers get so fixated on themselves in a kind of product vanity, that they take no time to understand consumers and how can they improve the lives of their potential customer rather than their own. Yes, it’s an inevitability that a new retail park will affect the trade in the town centre when it first opens. On the other hand, not having the retail park means that millions of pounds of potential trade is already being lost to Truro, Plymouth and out of Cornwall through internet sales.  By drawing people to St. Austell, via a retail park, means you keep the spend within St. Austell and all local business has the potential to reap the benefit.
  5. What do we risk? If you support the ‘no’ campaign you believe that we risk the death of the Town Centre just as it is struggling to get back on its feet. “Wrong time, wrong place” is the argument against it and “Give us another 5 years is the plea.” But what if in 5 years time, and without Coyte Farm, the Town Centre is no better? What if it were worse? Who would be blamed? No one can predict the future and in a world-changing faster than it ever has in human history…treat anyone who tells what it will be like with skepticism because they can’t know. The only helpful prediction of the future is to looks at trends. Less of what has gone before, but what’s emerging. Examples of town centres that have died after out-of-town centre development were built have to be looked at in context. Big retail shops may have a magnetic pull, but other shops drive customers away because fail to keep their customer’s interest. That’s why, as the experts tell us, shopping giants such as HMV have failed. Maybe these town centres died because they behaved like dinosaurs and refused to accept their customers were changing and they would need to adapt and evolve or become extinct?

I can’t predict the future except that nothing stays the same. Saying ‘yes’ to Coyte Farm will change the landscape and houses will follow. The Primary School I attended surrounded by farmland (we were once taken to see the cows being milked at Coyte Farm) won’t be the same,  the little country Church I was married in will be engulfed and St. Austell will creep west. It will be different but it’s what’s needed. Leaving my personal regrets aside, we need a magnet,  if this town is going to realistically market itself and be taken seriously as ‘St. Awesome.’

Forget the other supermarket proposals on the table that won’t add value but will make the approach roads to the town more congested and hazardous to the local Primary School my children all attended. Like or or not a development such as Coyte Farm is what this super town deserves.