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A Bright Spark Miles Chambers

Written by Miles Chambers

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One of the ways cities are changing is new uses for redundant shops and shopping centres. Miles Chambers, Bristol City Poet 2016-2018, reflects on the closure of Marks & Spencer in Broadmead and its replacement by the environmental centre Sparks.

I haven’t forgotten you,
I have fond memories of you
Boarding the train from Trowbridge
with three siblings trapesing behind our
Mother in an age-defined queue

Those shopping days out to Bristol
In the school holidays, usually on Tuesdays
on an expedition to find something smart and new

We didn’t come straight through, we’d go around
come around, Broadmead in search of the
bargains and then we came to you, that’s
what Mum would always do

Then we’d arrive at a bustling orderly shopping
Metropolis of quality and finesse
Marks & Spencer, an Iconic
institution of Britishness

I felt a calmness, yet an energy of clarity and order
Each had its neatly defined place each age group
sex and section with clearly defined borders

I felt choice and aspiration calling me, I could see
possibility and good standards seducing me and
all presented so visually articulately and then…

There were those cakes and sweets in that bakery

This is where Mum came to get our proper clothes
Good dependable apparel, nice shirts which always fit
and trousers, durable which never split
Quality dress for church which we’d use as our Sabbath best
It was those other shops that we went to get the rest

The underwear would fit snuggly
Girls, despite their shape, could find something
which hugged comfortably

The longest working hours in Europe didn’t benefit you
No time to get pampered in the sartorial queue
Shopping online, came to their rescue
What were they supposed to do?

Prosperity ignored you, Austerity killed you
Those clothes were bleeding you
The pandemic, consumed any remains of you
What were you supposed to do?

The centre was done with you
Your empty shell echoed the essence of you
Corridors of commerce
yearned to be caressed by you

You were not alone; Bristol’s centre
boasted sporadic bruised lonely spaces
where icons once stood
the silent screams of your concrete walls
could be heard shouting into the
emptiness, but no more of you
Who would come to rescue your space?

I stumbled in recently, forgot your belated
essence, expected to be greeted by Jenny
Be reassured with M&S branding
anchoring feelings of quality and reliability

I recognise this wasn’t it; for a moment
I took that in and felt sad discomfort
By the absence of those reassuring anchors
which had caressed me for so many years

They weren’t there but what was this? Sparks!
Shop, create, recover, recycle, learn, repair
Reuse, resources, discover energy, travel
Fashion, nature. Community Champions were all there

A perplexed city centre space
divorces from its commerciality
Finds healing with a new artistic identity
Commerce finds solace in creativity
Champions arise from the ashes of uncertainty

Champions that fight causes that you can see
I saw men and women toppling the past
Crying out for those dispersed from their future
Asking Justice to be fair and reasonable
Building communities within their community

I heard voices crying in unison
I’m happy here, this is the place to be

Everyone’s welcome in our community
Let’s dance in this festival of creativity
Spark new ideas about energy
Let’s travel with simplistic sustainability
Let’s deliberate, until the solution comes with clarity
Let’s create an environment where
I support you and you support me

So, you see, I haven’t forgotten you
I know you, you remind me of my city
You mirror the solution from hostility
You echo its journey
You swooped in and saved me

Miles Chambers was Bristol City Poet 2014-2016. His book of poems from this time, This is Our City, was published in 2018.

This essay is taken from Our Project Was the City: Bristol Ideas 1992-2024, published May 2024.

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