Telford's Southwater among huge leisure complexes facing challenges
Southwater has gone south.
This showpiece redevelopment of restaurants, pubs and hotels, to give Telford a vibrant new heart, is deserted.
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There are though one or two people out and about in the town centre, including David and Lyn Baker of Malinslee.
“We’re quickly going shopping for mum as she can’t get out. She is self-isolating,” says Lyn.
As for things generally, David, whose mouth is covered by a scarf, says they’re doing okay. “It’s a bit boring staying indoors all the time. I’ve been playing in the back garden with the two kids and watching television.”
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A Telford bus driver, who prefers not to give his name, has been to Iceland with his partner to get a few essentials delivered.
“I’m still having to work at the moment,” he says.
His last shift was on Monday.
“Some of the routes were quiet, but some were still busy. At home we’re doing the same as everybody else – watching telly, or whatever we can do.”
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I go past the deserted restaurant at the Premier Inn to ask at reception how things are, but am politely referred to head office (later I go to Premier Inn’s website, which says: “We have removed all our hotels from sale up until April 30.”)
At the nearby Travel Lodge, manager Simon Roberts says: “We are closing down today.”
It is in line, he says, with the government instructions. The guests have been told by letter and there are none left in.
“We’ve been affected just like every other business. There’s been a drastic drop in occupancy and sales,” says Simon.
There is nobody to admire the Knife Angel in pride of place in Southwater.
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Nigel Neat of Dawley Bank is four miles into a six-mile walk. “I’m taking advantage of the currently-allowed daily exercise walk. I walk every day, and occasionally during the week two or three times. Obviously, given the current situation, it’s once a day at the minute.”
He has been coping with the restrictions fine so far, he says.
“The fact that we can get out helps. In four, five, or six weeks’ time it will be different. I’m working from home as well. It’s pretty much business as usual. I work in IT for Telford & Wrekin Council.”
As he heads off across the empty townscape he says: “It’s very eerie, isn’t it?”
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It’s a beautiful sunny day and at this time – this is around noon, yesterday, Wednesday – with the schools closed, you would expect to hear the excited screams and cries of children playing on the equipment in Telford Town Park. The play equipment is all closed, and notices are up saying so. Even so, you expect to see children and families taking advantage of the sun.
Yet there are zero, or close to zero. There’s the odd jogger, a walker or two, and a handful of people on the benches.
Enjoying the sun on a bench overlooking Southwater Lake I come across a rebel. He’s 72. Self-isolation?
“No way. I won’t – I won’t self-isolate,” he says. He is from Telford by the way, and doesn’t want to be named.
“I’ve always been used to being out.”
It turns out that he had flu earlier in the year and is now, he says, getting better and recovering.
While he is a self-isolation rebel, he is big on social distancing and is disgusted that some people have not been doing so on public transport and in some other settings.
“People are being told to keep their distance, and that is what I do,” he says.
“That’s what it’s all about. I’ve been sitting here this morning and getting the fresh air.
“I love the fresh air. At my age, if you are used to it, you enjoy it.
“And we have the bad weather coming again at the weekend.
“I’ll have another half hour here and then go back home and look at the television, although there isn’t much of that. It’s all repeats.”
As we part, it’s clear he thinks I’m a television journalist and looks disappointed when I tell him I’m from the Shropshire Star.
To get to Southwater, I had walked through Telford’s indoor shopping centre.
Hardly anywhere was open – Boots, a bank or two, that sort of thing.
And earlier I had taken a drive-through diversion to see how things looked in Madeley and Dawley.
In Dawley High Street, it was a sea of shutters, with a few out and about.
In Madeley centre, which is today essentially a Tesco store, similarly a few were out doing their shopping. A quick stop on a bridge over the M54 showed that there is still motorway traffic, but no doubt much reduced on normal levels.
Telford will come out the other side of the coronavirus outbreak but Southwater, with its almost exclusive reliance on restaurants, pubs, and hotels, faces an especially difficult challenge.
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