Chelmsford seems to have chuggers pounding the streets most days, ready to pounce with a smile or a heart-tugging line about whatever charity they are supporting.
Kip posted a great post on his blog last week about charity muggers and his annoyance with them. One greeted me several months ago with the opening line “Good morning Sir, do YOU care about starving children in Africa?” before fixing me with a stare that I dare say was supposed to make me feel guilty or concerned, but instead made him look like he was suffering from constipation.
“No,” I replied as cheerfully as I could, not even breaking my stride.
“What? Not at all?!” the chugger replied, sounding perplexed.
“Nope. Not one bit. Thanks for asking, though.” I kept a smile on my face as I said it in the hope it would confuse him, and it seemed to work.
It was after that incident that I began to stick my earphones in whenever I walked down the High St, as it seems the chuggers don’t approach you if they think they won’t be heard - Very similar to the way that John Barrowman works with his career, I believe.
An interesting point to note about chuggers, by the way, is that they are more often than not paid an hourly wage, commission or both to get you to sign up to their chosen charity.
This method of collection is becoming more common because the charity don’t get a one-off payment, but instead the chuggers persuade you to sign up for a Direct Debit, which ensures a regular income for the charity. Although these Direct Debits can be cancelled, it’s estimated that on average, each person that signs up this way ends up donating £600 to the charity before they cancel their Direct Debit.
If you really want to help a charity, go to their website and there will be a section for donating. Set up your own Direct Debit. That way you know that you are not paying out the cost of chuggers on the street to do their thing, and your chosen charity gets more money as a result. Rant over.
Anyone that follows me on Twitter will have picked up on the tongue-in-cheek hashtag that I’ve used a few times now: #CurseOfHighChelmer - This came into effect after seeing several shops in High Chelmer closing at once, namely Base, Hawkins Bazaar, Red Sun comics and Dr SpaFish.
Walking through the town it seems that it’s not just High Chelmer that is affected.
In New London Road Mustard Bistro closed its doors on New Years Eve after just over three years of trading, and now the big furniture store Dansk, which has only been open for 18 months or so, has announced that it is closing too.
Add to that Dukes nightclub, which shut it’s doors a week after Mustard Bistro and there is suddenly a lot less to do in Chelmsford.
The downturn in options for a night out have also coincided with the news of various attacks in Chelmsford. Two weekends in a row saw someone - not the same person I hasten to add - being attacked in Moulsham Street (which, strangely, people seemed very quick to blame the closing of Dukes for), and there were rumours of yet another incident this weekend which caused police to cordon off a section of road in town (though in truth that may have been just a rumour).
Despite the town having big plans to expand the shopping area with a new shopping area on the Bond Street car park site, as well as new housing on the old university site overlooking the library and stretching back towards the station, it seems that the town’s retail area is in need of a boost to keep things going on a retail level. Some action is needed to ensure that the recent aggression on the streets at night is merely a blip, and not the start of our town spiralling into being an unsafe place to go.
Whereas the new developments are telling us that they will enhance Chelmsford, you can’t help but wonder if they will, in fact, detract from what we already have. New shops in Bond St will mean there is less need for shoppers to visit the West End side of town, and the businesses going out towards and beyond the train station will suffer further.
The new housing opposite the library promises to be “affordable housing”, though how a house in the centre of town will be affordable (no prices have been released yet, but I’d be surprised to see anything below £200k for the smallest of places) remains to be seen.
Chelmsford holds so much promise and seems to be on the brink of being a great place to be. High Chelmer, despite haemorrhaging shops like never before, looks so much better after being given a massive makeover a while back, and with Primark coming this Summer, and John Lewis following in the next couple of years there is a lot to be positive about.
Hopefully the various niggles I’ve mentioned above are just that. Niggles.
Maybe I’ll look back at this entry in a few years and wonder why I was worried about what our newly-crowned City (!) would become.