Opinion: Focus on ‘run down’ Preston continues to baffle me

Posted on - 23rd June, 2024 - 9:00am | Author - | Posted in - Business, Food & Drink, Preston Guild Hall, Preston News, Pubs, Restaurants in Preston, Things to Do in and around Preston, What's On in Preston
Avenham Park
Avenham Park. Credit: Lisa Brown Photography

“…in a dire state, with numerous boarded up shops and a general sense of neglect”.

So concluded a member of the public speaking to candidates to become the next MP at our general election hustings this week. 

Not one candidate spoke up for Preston.

It has been a constant theme of the last 15 years I’ve spent reporting on Preston in some form. Preston used to have this. Preston once did this. 

Read more: Opinion: Why we need our new hospital to remain in Preston

And at no point during those 15 years have I really chimed with any of the sentiment. 

It was here, and in the section describing Preston as ‘anti-car’, that the lack of young candidates on the all-male, all-not-young (sorry Neil Darby, I’m not young either) panel felt most problematic. It’s a shame the Green candidate couldn’t make it. 

Our city isn’t perfect and nobody likes to see boarded up shops and empty units. These, though, are a worldwide issue as shopping trends change. More pertinently, they are a sign of city centres transforming. 

That’s not to be dismissive of the issue which probably needs a creative short term solution from the council and landlords. Preston is diminished as a shopping destination at the moment – but few places have avoided this.

Preston, in the years to come, will be measured not by its ability to continue being what it was – but by its ability to evolve. 

Earlier this year I quizzed the leader of Preston City Council about the plans to open a new cinema but what that plan recognises, above all else, is that shopping can’t be the area’s main attraction anymore. 

I care about the #PrestonModel about as much as our readers do. But – it will add something new to do in Preston and that’s important. As people start to shop and work less in city centres, instead it needs to be a place to eat, drink, watch and otherwise spend time (and money). Some councils are really pushing their centres as places to live, too. In Bolton, they want to treble the number of people living in the town centre. You can see movement in this direction in the Stoneygate Masterplan, should it ever materialise.

We talk a lot about the independent businesses Preston has. My favourites are NIKO, All Hopes No Promises, PLAU, Winckley Ale House, Tipsy Chef and Jonah’s Coffee. Chew’s Yard which, forgive me, I’ve not actually been to yet, has been very successful. I do most of my gift shopping at the Green Pheasant on Winckley Street. I don’t really miss Debenhams. I’m not convinced many do, besides those who worked there or those who went in once per year at Christmas. The Ferret was saved, though admittedly a venue with a big capacity would be very welcome.

Elsewhere, Avenham & Miller Park are a jewel in the crown and work is being done to (finally) get that bloody bridge sorted. I’m from Preston originally, but when I was studying I remember how baffled new students were at how gorgeous they were – they usually didn’t discover it until the summer after moving here. 

All city centres are undergoing change and it’s unavoidable. I’m pleased that I enjoy going into Preston more today than perhaps at any other point in my life – and it remains the truth that I’d not want to live anywhere else, as I did in my twenties. 

Everywhere can improve and constructive discussion about how to achieve that is important. But don’t let that discussion stop you from looking round and appreciating what we have. The Preston you knew isn’t coming back – but this one is alright, you know?

In the permanently negative world of social media comment sections, it’s not a popular opinion to take a step back and say “actually, Preston is pretty wonderful.”

But it is. 

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