Peace at Last

A town with Roman origins that developed through Saxon settlement into a medieval market town with an important textile trade.  There are several places that come to mind but I suspect the places that come to mind don’t include my destination this week.

Perhaps its Palladian Town Hall, rated by Pevsner as the finest late 18th Century home in South Lancashire.  South Lancashire?  APW_7436_7_8-EditProbably not where you had in mind.  This is a region famed for its industrial heritage and the industrial revolution really brought prosperity to the area.APW_7455-Edit

The town hall was originally the private home of merchant Thomas Patten, but this elegant property and some of its surrounding grounds were sold to the borough council a century later, the grounds becoming the town’s first public park. APW_7426-Edit Sadly the public toilets in the same grounds are more indicative of the more recent fortunes of Warrington.APW_7442

Now mention Warrington to me and I think of Rugby Union, and the team which has the unique record of being one of the founder clubs and the only one who has never slipped out of the top league.  Or rather that was the first thing that came to mind about this Merseyside town.

That all changed twenty years ago when the town was rocked by the explosions of two bombs planted by the IRA.  This came just a month after a gas holder was bombed in the same town which caused enormous damage but no casualties, though a policeman was shot and injured after stopping the bombers’ van.  Sadly the second event was more tragic.

The two bombs were small, and planted in cast iron waste paper bins in the town centre. The warnings given at the time are in dispute, but whatever the truth, Warrington was not the focus of police efforts to save lives.  The location and timing of the two bombs in Warrington meant that shoppers fleeing the first explosion were driven into range of the second, a tactic frequently used by terrorist bombers since.

The cast iron of the bins was turned to shrapnel and caused carnage.  Dozens were injured, but it was the death of two children that made the event notorious.  Three year old Jonathon Ball died in the explosions, but 12-year-old Tim Parry, who suffered the full force of the blast died in hospital a few days later when his life support was ended.APW_7356

People react to such attacks in a variety of ways.  In Northern Ireland loyalist paramilitaries predictably sought revenge, but this was eclipsed by a number of peace campaigns including that of Tim’s parents who began a campaign to promote greater understanding between communities in Britain and Ireland.  Now those efforts have a physical presence.  A large timber clad building in Warrington that bears the names of the two victims in now an international centre promoting peace and conflict resolution.

The ability of some to channel the pain of grief into positive action continually astounds me.APW_7397_8_9


Retail is changing in this country.  Our high streets are struggling to survive the combined threats of online giants and out-of-town shopping centres.

I am fortunate that here in Durham, where much of the property is historic and protected, the effects are less noticeable.  Quirky places tend to attract quirky shops which survive through the combined attention of tourists and students.  The average town is not so fortunate and many streets that once were full of  thriving local businesses are now either made anonymous through the proliferation of identikit branded outlets (every main street featuring the same names just shuffled into a different configuration), or, where the foot traffic doesn’t justify the spending power of the big boys, charity shops.

APW_4905_6_7-EditThose shopping malls are wall to wall glass and bright lighting, whose sharp edginess is softened only by wooden handrails and the flesh that is drawn to worship in these vast basilica.  What is more, we are becoming so used to this shopping experience, that any attempt to offer something different has a battle on its hands.  That is not to say that there aren’t those willing to take up the cause.  Love her or hate her, Mary Portas is up for the challenge.

That is not to say that the shops in these malls are entirely without appeal…



The recent visit of the G8 to Northern Ireland, produced an interesting response to the problem of how we keep our high streets looking vibrant and attractive when the retailers have left for pastures new.  The council in Fermanagh has redecorated a number of rundown outlets to spruce the place up, and this included creating “fake” shop fronts.  Windows with full size posters applied to the inside that give the place a look of a thriving store, be it butcher, baker or coffee shop.  At least one has a door redecorated so that it appears to be slightly ajar and opening onto an attractive butchers shop within.

Many have scoffed at the idea, but locally it seems to have been well received as a way of bringing a bit of life back to their towns, not to mention providing welcome work for the painters!

There are a couple of establishments that I pass on my way to work that have also demonstrated the power of doing something a little different.  The first is a pub between Chester le Street and Birtley.  The Lambton Worm, is painted in battleship grey with white window frames.  Not a particularly inviting prospect, the grey giving a cold and gloomy feel which is the very opposite of what a good pub should represent, and yet they have a secret weapon.   Smack in the centre of this monochrome expanse is the pub doorway where a splash of colour brings an element sixties pop art and fun to the decor.  Amazing what you can achieve with two colours added to the existing white.APW_4161

APW_4850The second structure shows that there can be life when a building’s fickle customers have moved on and it’s raison d’être is lost.  It was a cinema; The Rex, although it gave its last show even before I was born.  Now it’s a launderette.  Some might see this as a loss of status, but this isn’t any launderette.  No chain-smoking Dot Cotton here.  This is a launderette with attitude and a website.  A launderette with a coffee shop and facebook fans.  A launderette that doubles as a venue for concerts.  A launderette that has just acquired a licence to sell alcohol.  And they’re just around the corner.  How good is that?

They even know a bit about window dressing…