Bolton Under Lockdown
Even though I’ve been out walking locally on a regular basis since the start of the Lockdown, I’ve generally taken a northerly direction towards the moors. A few weeks ago, on Saturday the 25th April to be precise, I decided to head in the opposite direction and walk into Bolton’s town centre.
Sadly, this part of Bolton has suffered significantly with the recent retail industry woes (and other recessionary factors before that too, I imagine) but the council is putting emphasis on the university as a catalyst for change and, as a result, there’s significant re-generation underway all across the town in support of this.
The reason for my walk? Really, I was intrigued to see what impact Lockdown has had on a town centre that is currently way past its former glory and one which is also attempting to reinvent itself to gain relevance in today’s and our future world.
The direct route for me to the town centre is to walk along the A666, that starts in the Langho area of Blackburn in the north and finds its way through Bolton to Pendlebury, near Manchester.
My journey starts in north Bolton. At 8:30 in the morning it was quieter than normal, but with some congestion around the junction with Crompton Way (named after the Bolton-born and bred Samuel Crompton who invented the spinning mule).
At times, the road ahead was completely deserted . . .
. . . then one or two cars on the horizon . . .
. . . but, I hadn’t expected to see anything quite like this!
This man can often be seen (in normal times) driving a horse and trap along busy main roads in Bolton, but as he explained without stopping on his way, the horse still needs exercise!
I walked past some places that I can’t ever remember noticing at all before, like this tyre fitters, that has a faded charm in the already bright sunlight.
There weren’t many people around but one or two early birds had got up early to miss the supermarket queues.
The local bus service has had a recent revamp with smart new high-tech vehicles and, apparently, even with wifi charging points on board.
Nice to see key transport workers appreciating other key workers too.
For more images, please see Route 666 listed under Photography.
On a similar note, the first place I wanted to visit in town was the newish Bolton Interchange (opened 3rd September 2017) which houses both bus and rail services following the construction of an ultra-modern bus station adjacent to the more traditional Trinity Road railway station.
Pretty much normal service, it seems . . .
. . . although staff are paired up in teams with hand sanitisers and cleaning products making sure passengers embark safely. This team moves from bus to bus as they arrive into the stands, ready to start their next journey.
Inside, people went about their business silently . . .
. . . and waited patiently for their journeys to commence.
I’d come prepared with a flask of coffee and by this time I’d been out a few hours, so thought it was good time to have break. So, nice to have a chat at a distance with a chap who’d come in by bus to do his shopping and one of the transport staff. Fortunately, that famed Northern friendliness doesn’t seem to be at all dented by COVID-19.
From the end of the waiting area, you get a good view of Bolton’s changing skyline, with the re-development of a mill into what I understand will be a high end conversion for private sales or property investment.
Time to move on and explore other parts of the town.
For more images, please see Interchange Exchanges listed under Photography.
I was also interested to see just how much of Bolton was at work. Of course, I expected shops to be shut, so I was quite surprised to see the town centre branch of Wilko open and with quite a big queue already forming.
I passed a pleasant few minutes chatting to a local man who was waiting for his wife to finish shopping at M&S (where there were also long queues). He explained how this street, Churchgate, in its hey-day, had been full of cinemas – none exist here now, although the pasty shop remains.
He’d taken advantage of town centre parking being a little easier at the moment, although some were not so lucky. Yes, wardens are still hard at work, so beware!
Unlike Wilko and M&S, the vast majority of shops are closed and the rather tired Crompton Place shopping centre is no exception. It looks as though it’s now just forlornly waiting for its inevitable demise once the £1.5bn makeover commences, as a part of Bolton’s regeneration plan.
The Octagon, on the other hand, has been under redevelopment for sometime, but now with a delayed reopening date that’s pushed back to late autumn 2020. Even on Saturday at the height of the lockdown, a skeleton-staffed building team was on site.
The Olympus Fish & Chip Restaurant and Takeway has become an institution in Bolton since it first opened in 1987 and while the restaurant is of course closed, the take away is still cheerily serving workers and lunchtime shoppers.
An important place close by is the market hall. It’s also open for business but letting just a few people inside at a time, the queues of people socially distancing while they wait to enter.
Returning home again via the A666, it was a similar picture. Many retail outlets and businesses all closed, but luckily for me, Shahi’s, a brightly-lit bakery and sweet shop was still open so a great opportunity to treat myself to a few delicious goodies.
For more images, please see Locktown Working listed under Photography.
So what happens next . . . ?
Before lockdown, Bolton’s town centre was suffering from problems that I’m sure exist in many other town centres across the country – empty retail shops, tired run-down buildings and locals neglecting the town, in favour of smarter areas on the outskirts of Bolton or other nearby towns like Bury. I’ve only been here 5 years and its not uncommon to hear the words “oh, no we don’t go into town these days”.
The council’s visionary plans for a new-style town centre, building an exciting and vibrant digital city are expensive and radical. They may be exactly what the town needs – I do hope so – but I also wonder what longer-term damage COVID-19 will actually do to the council’s ambitious plans and the town’s future. Right now, it feels quite a big gamble but fingers crossed it’s one that really does come good and it delivers the heart back into Bolton.