So much of the last two years has been dominated by the blasted virus that much else hasn't had as much attention as it should.
So here's a summary of some important advances in Gloucester during 2021 - and a look ahead to excitements coming in 2022.
Together they give me confidence about our city remaining OnThe Up - but of course there’ll be challenges too, and I don't ignore those either.
2021 was another year when the public sector dominated life in Gloucester - with health at the forefront. We’ve got a high public sector employment rate, and I’ve written to all the main organisations based here thanking their teams for huge efforts under great stress in 2021. The vaccination and booster programmes have been an astonishing success and I don’t think we can’t thank those involved enough.
But what about business? No City can thrive without creative and successful business - for our manufacturing and services, creativity and variety of job opportunities and then all the social buzz around sport events and hospitality.
Without Gloucester Quays, for example, there would be many fewer shops or places to eat and drink, no ice skating or fairs around The Docks, and over half a million fewer visitors a year to our city, affecting much else besides.
2021 was a pretty difficult year especially for the hospitality sector - but there are others in Gloucester doing well, quietly. BAe Systems (for example) have 38 apprenticeships available in their Gloucester cyber HQ. We need to encourage more pupils early that maths in particular is key to being part of Cyber County's success.
Contrary to many expectations we have both lower unemployment now than before the pandemic and more jobs available. It’s extraordinary that Walls, making all their UK ice creams in Gloucester, still has vacancies.
School, college and university leavers have arguably never had so much opportunity. We need both an end to all restrictions and all our unemployed to take up these opportunities so our businesses thrive in 2022 - Warehouse 4 and distillery of Gloucester Brewery and the opening of the Food Docks, as well as the big new Primark and other city centre openings and plans,
That’s alongside the buzz that will come back to Kings Square and our City Centre with performances and music there as changes happen to ex Debenhams and The Forum (see below).
Despite the roller coaster of stops and starts, some of our leading sport clubs have flourished too – look at Gloucester Rugby’s results (as Bath and the Saracens know) and the return of their training facilities to Gloucester is very welcome. A role in the end of the season Premier League play offs is a huge potential excitement ahead.
It hasn’t been plain sailing for Gloucester City Football Club, but the incredible commitment that got the club back to Meadow Park is under appreciated because it happened without much fanfare in the pandemic. There is a book to be written (‘Back from the brink?') about this rollercoaster of a football club journey.
Both clubs now play on astro, enabling far more use, and the growth of women’s teams is exciting - as is our bid to host Women’s Rugby World Cup. But the immediate 2022 challenge is to encourage more children and younger players into sport and clubs – schools and community clubs are they key to producing the next Charlie Sharples (as well as better public health).
So some business and sports success in 2021 - and also a string of successful bids for government help for the Gloucester Bounce Back.
The biggest was £20 million for our City Centre Levelling Up Fund - which will be a huge lift to our city centre. Central to this is the ambitious Uni of Glos plan to reinvent the former Debenhams (the UK’s first conversion of a department store into a teaching campus).
Pushing forward for a 2023 opening, the plans approved by the City Council have bold interiors.
Best of all for me though, are the changes to the currently grizzly back façade overlooking Kings Sq – where the windows have long been painted over as if in a war blackout film. The new design has warmth and light, and I’m looking forward to the new café next to outdoor events in the Square.
Artist impressions of what the outside of the UoG City Campus
Artist impressions of what the inside of the UoG City Campus
The Fund also kickstarts the Reef plc development of The Forum (old bus station) with a new tech and AI centre (‘The Forge’). All close to archaeological find (of the decade?) beside an old lift shaft - a Roman statuette of Venus. In Gloucester where there’s muck there’s history, and 2021 was good for learning more about our past too.
No better illustration of this than the new Gloucester Reconstructed book by our city archaeologist Andrew Armstrong and city historian Phil Moss, available in Waterstones, the City Museum etc. The Gloucester History Trust has exciting ideas to push forward its charitable aim of providing Living History outings for school pupils, and this book is a step for the cause - more soon.
Venus: pin up beauty of 1,800 years ago found under the old bus station
The third beneficiary is the reinvention of The (medieval) Fleece, closed for over a generation and another ‘it’ll never happen’ project that will now happen. For all three projects the cash is now there - now to deliver with designs, planning applications and spades in the ground. 2022 needs to see great progress on all.
Of course any city is always ultimately about people: the buildings matter because of their effect on us: ‘we shape them and then they shape us’ (Churchill). So the work by the City Council and Gloucester Culture Trust to reinvent King's House, the building beside Wetherspoons in Kings Sq, matters because of who is there.
This is where the young stars of The Music Works are rehearsing, recording and performing. It’s now a Queens Award winning charity and I hope we’ll soon hear more of them in the Square itself - showing the great positives young music can bring to our city in a new setting. Here are some of the team:
The Music Works celebrates their Queen's Award
Some of the Jolt's artistic output
Both the Music Works, and those next door in The Jolt, centre of young artists, will make a difference to the shock, grief and questions after the death of Ramarni in Barton St - helping provide alternative lifestyles to gangs.
And they’re adding to our wider culture: ‘keep being ambitious’ was the message from the Head of the Arts Council on his recent visit. It’s good when we keep pushing out the boundaries - much better to be a city where things happen, as Strike a Light showed.
There’s a wider point too - local government youth clubs had their day: but The Jolt/Music Works and reinvented charity run community centres like The Redwell Centre, The Friendship Café at Chequers or The Venture (White City) are about communities themselves going forward, accessing foundation and Lottery cash, and all of these are doing much more and better than a decade ago. Let’s see more of that spirit elsewhere in 2022.
Jo Sutherland and her family on the day she received the Queen's Award
The Redwell Centre giving opportunities through Kickstarters
Another example of a voluntary group being recognised in 2021 was Charlie’s (cancer support). It started with a young mother who’d had cancer wanting to do something where she felt there was a gap. With support from businesses and individuals (like Paul Mount) Jo Sutherland has created something very precious to thousands of people.
Charlie’s and the Music Works are not a failure of government or local government, they’re successes of a society which should and does help enable individuals to make a difference.
This space – where buildings, purpose and people meet, as they do at Treasure Seekers in Westgate St, and individual self confidence grows – is what interests me most about regeneration.
All three go together – and we will see more of that when (I trust not ‘if’) the Library and a Wellbeing Centre open in the Uni of Glos in Kings Sq. A reinvented building, a purpose of skills and training - but also of individual stimulus and solutions to physical and mental health problems.
We know decent housing is also at the heart of the junction and some of our housing estates are old - expensive for landlords to upkeep and tenants to heat. As energy bills rise this year it’s even more important to have energy efficient homes with eg solar panels. So what are we doing?
Several years ago I encouraged and we won a bid for Estate Regeneration in Matson and Podsmead, and plans were drawn up. But not enough has happened since because there are too many reasons why different proposals are not perfect.
We won’t sort out cost of living issues in these two wards effectively, let alone get better shops, until residents, residents’ groups, GCH and the two councils reach agreement - with everyone contributing and compromising. There isn’t unlimited cash, there are some spaces that should have new homes, and yes some assets have to be put into the pot free for the benefit of all.
A very encouraging start has been made bringing the Anglers Pond back to life, and I’m optimistic about further agreement on the land and old School Lodge around it. That can be a great precedent to show working partnerships can deliver welcome change.
New Councillors at derelict Matson pub site - now approved for 10 new energy efficient homes
The St. Oswalds site with City Council Leader Richard Cook: 300 new homes from Rooftop
Meanwhile elsewhere we’re pushing on. Black Dog Way has been transformed 2020-2021 with new housing from both Rooftop and GCH, including social and supported housing tenants. Down the road at St Oswalds a successful Brownfield Fund site bid will enable up to 300 new homes from Rooftop, including almost half social housing. Just before Christmas a developer also announced plans for a further 300 new homes on the edge of the Great Western Rd side of the Railway Triangle. We won’t get affordable decent homes for our young without building more - and I welcome brown field sites within walking distance of both the UoG and the jobs at our two large NHS Trusts, University and College.
Of course there will always be constituents who get into difficulty. The fall out from family or relationship breakdowns is enormous and often at the heart of the saddest casework every MP faces. There is no single solution, but a mosaic of different help does make a difference. One part came to life in 2021 - the new office and winter shelter of Gloucester City Mission off Eastgate St. It will house a good number of emergency beds for the desperate, eg fleeing from domestic abuse: and also provide skills needed, alongside a will for change, to turn around a life. Otherwise, as one former nurse at the NHS Homeless unit told me, we will see the same people coming round and round any help systems.
So through the charity I helped establish, HaVinG (designed to provide a hand up not a hand out), I will support this great good cause of the Glos City Mission and would welcome any help readers could give too. Ours is a City of Compassion – offering a way for our vulnerable to be stronger. This is something I would love to see take off successfully in 2022.
Kevin Howie of GCM, a former school Head leading the skills programme
Dave & colleagues at Xmas in the Russell St YMCA: more venues coming in 2022
I said there will be challenges too. While an overall macro outlook for 2022 looks positive, inflation - which rose sharply from 1% to over 4% - is the most visible threat.
The costs of ingredients and transport to consumer goods have risen: and there are worries about wages and hikes to National Insurance and energy bills. State pensions have had a good run since 2010, but pensioners want to see the promise to reinstate the Triple Lock in 2023 kept to.
Some things should get better: as the DVLA catches up on the backlog of licence applications, so the numbers of HGV drivers and bus drivers should improve, reducing logistics delays for consumer goods and making bus schedules more reliable. Likewise supermarket competition should help keep any increases of food affordable.
But energy bills, due to wholesale gas prices, and until we have more home grown energy, will be hard. In retrospect the period of 1997-2010, when no investment went into new nuclear, was a huge strategic failure. This government needs to complete Hinckley Point and reach agreement on Sizewell C asap, and then decide on the next new nuclear site (Wylfa?), as well as pushing forward on the Small Modular Reactors - and this is relevant to us in Gloucester because most of the expertise sits in EdF Energy’s operational nuclear HQ here. The Nuclear Finance Bill today is a big step forward.
Meanwhile the government will have to look at what more can be done to help families struggling, while not abandoning green energy & our net zero target. It won’t be an easy balance.
Where does this all take us? Back in the autumn of 2020 I organised a Glos LiftOff event at Kingsholm to stimulate growth of jobs to come out of a Recession. It was good in many ways - but premature, as things turned out: we slipped back into Lockdown soon after.
Now 2022 is time for a different LiftOff using the better weather of Spring, bringing to an end all virus restrictions and the Queen's Jubilee as catalysts for good cheer - less government interference in life, and more encouragement to entrepreneurs to get the economy moving: less caution and more ambition.
We'll need to navigate other things meanwhile - the rest of the flooding season, pressures in the health system as well as the cost of living and inflation concerns I’ve touched on, and keep raising awareness of the dangers of drugs and knives.
River levels at Alney Island still low, but that can change fast
#PuttheknivesdowninGloucester - a key message in 2022
So let’s push ahead in 2022 with the sites mentioned above and other brownfield sites, like the Glos Health & Care owned former Holly House at Coney Hill & the City Council site of Wessex House (Great Western Rd).
Time to create new houses on the Holly House site: a goal for Cllr Andrew Durdey
The new additional exit & entrance to our Railway Station off Metz Way - cutting journey time and cost for some
2022 will see progress on better infrastructure at our rail station, to complement additional services to Bristol and beyond. We (LEP, councils and GWR plus government cash) have just finished the additional exit and entrance off Metz Way - also critical to sorting the main entrance - and alongside other improvements, finally work on a better underpass to the GRH.
There’ll be better internet too from CityFibre’s £30 million investment, and a chance for real progress on a new use for the ex Gloucester Prison now that its neighbour Quayside Health Centre is successfully done and open. That's one for a future e news, but 2022 could be the year for a change there.
New Quayside House: GHAC open every day of the week 08:00 - 20:00
Llanthony Road changes coming an extra lane to reduce traffic congestion
Meanwhile work starts soon on an easier journey on the A38 past Llanthony and more Made in Gloucester Green Energy produced at our Recycling Centre.
Lots for Gloucester to look forward to in 2022 then, with Jubilee events in Kings Sq and masses of tree planting in Hempsted as two highlights.
Try a drink at Warehouse 4, a meal (when it opens) at the Food Docks, cycle down the improved towpath, see the new Visitor Centre at Robinswood, visit the new The Folk of Gloucester in Lower Westgate St, try a Zwing e scooter, have the new VRXPerience virtual experiences in Southgate St and - if need be - remember our new 2021 opened Gloucester Health Access Centre (GHAC). It’s the new handsome Quayside building and open to all residents from 0800-2000 every day inc weekends, for a sudden (but not A or E) health problem. Ring 336290.
I believe we can solve many of our challenges if we really commit to doing so, while recognising there are some hazards (like the virus) we can never anticipate. ‘Work for the best and be prepared for things worse’ is my approach for 2022 - and perhaps for every year.
Thank you if you've stayed with me all the way through this long think piece - and do let me know your reactions - what’s your reaction, what have I missed and what more can we do?
Very best New Year greetings!
Looking from Birdlip towards Gloucester and Cheltenham - I never forget what a beautiful part of the world we’re all lucky to live in