Is Worthing not working?
I’m told that Worthing doesn’t work very well as a town, that’s why we got together today to talk and think about making it better. It’s true for me, that I don’t get wildly excited looking around. I don’t immediately think “I’d really like to live here” or “Wow, I really should come down to Worthing more often” but then I also don’t think “Oh my god, this is awful, it might as well be swept away into the sea”. (Since drafting this, I have now been through the “Teville Gate Shopping Centre” and slightly revised this initial opinion…)
I’m struggling with the idea that there’s something wrong that is easily fixed – as I walk around the centre of the town, I’m struck that there doesn’t seem to be much more wrong with Worthing than there is with everywhere else in the UK at the moment. Yes there are quite a few empty shops. The town is full of people, bustling around looking to me as if they’re looking for something to fix the hole in their soul. I don’t think it’s to be found on the streets of Worthing, even if that sort of thing is available through a retail experience (and I doubt it) then it certainly isn’t available through any of the retail experiences I had in Worthing.
And so if we’re going to do something about it then I think I need to be clearer about what it is that isn’t working. If “it” was working, what would we see on the streets of Worthing that we don’t see already? There may be all sorts of things that I don’t like, but which of these are just personal prejudices, prejudices against old people, against young people, against working class people, against middle class people, just against people?
Even working from the assumption that something needs fixing, it also seems to me that there is no shortage of ideas – we’ve come up with quite a few today without really trying very hard. And I’m not convinced that building new things or changing the use of existing buildings is the answer either. In most places, in my experience, it’s about a shortage of people feeling able and inspired to do things regularly, to join in, to get things moving not just today, but tomorrow and every day. I think this is the priority. Put aside deciding in advance what needs to be done and instead just bring together smart people on a regular basis to talk about what they’re already doing and what they want to do, helping them to connect and inspire each other.