New Times For The Old Town

 By Rev Canon Dr Neal Barnes, Vicar of Holy Trinity Church

 I am truly delighted to learn of the news that the Old Town of Hull is to receive a grant of £3 million to help breathe new life into its economy, including exciting plans to revive Trinity Indoor Market. It is so heartening to know that others believe in the Old Town, as we do. Which is why the announcement complements so well our own plans for the transformation of Trinity Square and Holy Trinity.

 When I arrived at Holy Trinity in 2010, the mood was very different in the Old Town. Some key businesses had moved out of Whitefriargate. Pubs, bars and cafes were closing down. The indoor market was a rather drab affair with footfall a fraction of what it had been a decade before. Holy Trinity was not the most ebullient place either!

 All in all, there was a feeling that the Old Town, the historic mediaeval heart of Hull, had been cast off like a stray dog turned out after the excitement of Christmas. All the action was further west in the new commercial heart of the city.

 I heard, again and again, of the years when crowds thronged Whitefriargate, the halcyon days of the street market in Trinity Square and the buzz of Humber Street every morning when it was the heart of the fruit market.

 But now - what a difference! And this is surely credit to those who have kept faith with the Old Town, the traders, the organisations, people like Julie Buffey, who has pioneered the monthly outdoor markets. We have excellent free museums in the area, which are working hard to bring people in. I have recently taken over doing our Twitter feed and am so heartened by the comments I am reading from the nearly 900 people we follow and the 2500 plus people who follow us. There is a real buzz!

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 Credit too to Hull City Council and to new businesses that have moved in. I think of the likes of Boyes, Purple Pig, the re-furbished Riddlers and Kingston pub, C4DI (Hull’s first digital hub), the Yorkshire Brewing Company, 1884, Thieving Harry’s, Oresome Jewellery, The Brief and the Kardomah Cafe. And people really seem to want to work together. Just round the corner from us in Market Place, Hull’s first back-packers’ hostel has recently opened – Hull Trinity Hostel – and they lost no time in making contact with us. This is the kind of enterprise that we can all emulate. Our friends at the Lion and Key are doing a great job too – it’s sometimes hard to get a table there at lunchtime because it’s so busy. On top of this, I am aware of yet more initiatives in the pipeline, including the re-decoration of The Mission on Posterngate, the refurbishment of properties on Humber Street and a proposed boutique hotel on North Church Side.

 Let’s not forget, either, the award of Purple Flag status to Hull city centre, which has come as a result of an excellent partnership involving, amongst others, Hull City Council, the police, health authority, HullBID and voluntary groups such as the Street Angels.

 We now have some wonderful festivals too, many of which are anchored in the Old Town and bring tens of thousands of people down here. I think of the Freedom Festival, Heritage Open Days, Humber Street Sesh, Trinity Music Festival, the Skyride, Big Bus Day and  Victorian Christmas Market, to name but a few. Furthermore, I sense that more people are seriously considering the Old Town as an area to move in to. That has happened in many other city centres, and makes such a huge difference.

 At Holy Trinity, we have tried to do our bit with the annual Hull Real Ale and Cider Festival, fashion shows, craft markets, fairs, concerts and the ‘Live Nativity’. Every day, we make a point of praying for our city because we do believe in Hull – and in prayer too! That’s because we want to be good news to the city centre as we seek to proclaim the Good News too! Our words must be matched by actions which are always seeking to bless our community.

 So the announcement of a £3 million grant via the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership is a vindication of those years of hard work by the committed few, and also a recognition of what is already happening at grass-roots level.

 None of this happens without intention and hard work. There are movers and shakers who are making a difference, because they believe in Hull, and in the Old Town in particular. Increasingly too, I am detecting a growing sense of community and of ownership, even pride, in the Old Town. This was evidenced for me in the run-up to Christmas, especially when we went around the area singing carols in the pubs, ending up outside the Minerva for community carol-singing and entertainment. We started at the Sailmakers in High Street with about 20 ‘church’ people and ended up by the Victoria Pier with over 60, who saw what we were doing and wanted to join in! There was a great atmosphere.

 Last summer, an “Urban Panel” from English Heritage visited the city. It comprised experts from all over the country in heritage, town planning and urban regeneration. They were very excited by what they saw in the Old Town, but recognised that we face a huge challenge to bring this area back to life and to celebrate the heritage and culture that we have here.

 They could see that none of this would happen unless the Old Town drew in footfall, residents and businesses. Ultimately, it is about people. Amongst their proposals was the creation of a “Town Team” of people from across the spectrum in the Old Town to help stimulate creativity and facilitate good communications. I am in favour of this suggestion and would be happy to partner with others who support the principle.

 Looking five years ahead, post 2017, I would like to think that we will find it hard to remember what the Old Town was like when it was at its lowest ebb, for the simple reason that the place will be buzzing!

 For our part, we at Holy Trinity are looking forward to making our unique contribution with our development plans, helping to provide a strong spiritual heart to the area – which was Holy Trinity’s historic role, of course.

 I am excited about the years ahead because I truly believe that new times await the Old Town!

 ·         The Holy Trinity Development Trust  has already raised £1.5m, but needs a further £3m to fund the transformation of Holy Trinity. Anyone who would like to support the project should contact Director of Development, Brian Gilliland, on 07768 301707 or brian@holytrinityhull.com You can find out more about our plans at http://www.holytrinityhull.com/amazing-development/