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Earlier this week, Sandwell Council improved to a two star rating – partly because of its work in regenerating West Bromwich. Dave Woodhall wonders where the improvement are.

I was brought up in West Bromwich. As I got a bit older I’d spend a lot of my time in the Sandwell Centre. In fact, most nights after school I’d hang out there, wandering around buying records and annoying shop staff. It was a decent place where an adolescent could spend both time and money.

Two independent record shops – Sounds Good and Terry Blood - WH Smith, Littlewood’s, Boots and even two John Menzies. Bus up there, walk round for an hour (is it just me, or were all Woolworth’s conveniently situated so that a circuit of the shops included walking in through their front door and out again via the back entrance?) and then home to play the new copy of Inflammable Material or All Mod Cons before tea.

Then when I got a bit older the town centre was still okay for a decent-ish night out, with a few good pubs (well, they seemed it when when I was 18) and a couple of nightclubs.

Even then, though, older residents would say it was a lot better in years gone by, before the Adelphi ballroom burned down and the ring road carved its way straight though what really older residents called the ‘Golden Mile’ of shops.

I went back last week and to call the town centre dismal would be an understatement. The shops I used to use are all gone, except for Smith’s, and they’re only good for scanning magazines you aren’t interested in enough to buy.

The High Street, like so many, is a roll-call of fast food joints and charity shops. There’s an outdoor market where the most popular items on sale seem to be DVDs of dubious providence.

The Star & Garter is rundown, the former Great Western (once run by the legendary Finbar, later of the Wheatsheaf and now to be found at the Robin Hood in Ironbridge) a grotty looking and closed café.

The Sandwell on the opposite side of the road is now called the Goose, but a quick look through the window had persuaded me that this was one pub I didn’t need to spend any time in. The smartest pub in the town centre is a Wetherspoon’s and the best place to eat is McDonald’s. Doesn’t say much for the rest, does it?

The Kings Square has a few downmarket high street names of the Clinton’s/Baker’s Oven type, and there’s plenty of places where you can buy cheap clothes and jewellery. One shop window announced the closure of its occupants after 35 years trading at the premises due to falling customer numbers. The indoor market, one of the first of its type in the country, looked busy but uninspiring.

If that was bad, the older (by maybe two years) Queen’s Square genuinely shocked me. I walked into the centre of the precinct, looked around and all seemed derelict. Tesco and Boots are still open, somehow, but many of the shops around them are closed for good, particularly on the walk through to what was once the bus station and is now the controversial pUBLIC arts centre, scheduled to open some time this century.

There’s a big lump of coal next to the broken and ignored fountain which states the centre was financed in conjunction with the National Coal Board Mineworkers’ Pension Fund. The irony wasn’t lost.

West Bromwich town centre is the sort of place where nobody would spend any time or money unless they really have to – they’re unable to travel further or can’t afford better.

Some time ago I wrote equally disparagingly about Dudley town centre, although it was obvious that with a bit of effort and some investment, this was one place that could be improved beyond all recognition. I can’t say the same for West Bromwich. There’s no life in the town centre, no spark to the place and no reason for anyone to ever visit. Its only future is as a building site, although what could be built there I can’t imagine.

To see Dave Woodhall on Dudley, click here

Is West Bromwich a dump?

How could it be improved?

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