Berwick doesn’t need to be snookered by ‘Emptygate’

"We sit down and talk meaningfully about pragmatic solutions."
May 19, 2023

For years, Marygate was the heartbeat of the thriving market town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, with lots of different and unique shops. Sadly, it has tragically declined over the years, and, at the time of writing, there are a dozen empty retail units on the high street with more closing down.  

This malaise is mirrored across the town with a couple of retail units in Tweedmouth’s flagship Tweedbank Retail Park, now also standing empty.  

My hometown is falling down. You know it’s bad when you find yourself agreeing with an article in the Sun newspaper. Although the article prompted a robust defence from the Town Council, the tabloid was only pointing out the cold reality. 

The big question is what can be done about this problem many of us have dubbed “Emptygate”? 

In an attempt to better understand the situation, I emailed the county councillor for Berwick East, Georgina Hill

In her reply she wrote about “the internet being the death knell of the high street” as well as town centres being “less about retail/shops and more about bars, restaurants, galleries, residential etc.” moving forward. 

She highlighted Marygate was “particularly bad with the high rents and business rates”. She said these are set by the government and how it is difficult to work on proposals when the buildings are privately owned.  

So, what can be done about this?  

The first step is to open dialogue between Berwick Town Council, Northumberland County Council, the landlords, representatives from the government and anyone else with a stake in the town. And that includes you and me.  

The relevant authorities can’t just fall back on the position that retail has changed. Something needs to be done about it. We all need to sit down and talk meaningfully about pragmatic solutions. 

When I talk to my friends and other people under thirty, everyone says the same. There is nothing for young people in Berwick when we need hobbies and things to do. 

There may be a couple of gyms, a pool, and a library, but what else? 

Many of us visit cities in order to take advantage of the full amenities they offer from mini golf to pool and snooker clubs to bowling and arcades. There are only two arcades I know of in Berwick. One in Spittal, which is good, yes, but which closes in the evening. The other at the Holiday Camp by the golf course. A great venture, except local young people are not allowed to enter.  

Building more entertainment in Berwick is the key to not just filling our empty buildings but, giving our youth the services they need. As an example, Aldi on North Road stands abandoned after they moved location. That building would be perfect for a bowling alley. Not every building could fit these things but why not some mini golf on the high street or convert one of the empty shops into a pool and snooker club? 

Bring entertainment into Berwick and you will bring more tourists into Berwick and local young people will also feel encouraged to stay.  

But who will make this happen? All of us

As I said above, the relevant authorities need to sit down and come up with the solutions we need but it is down to the people to make this happen, to attend town and county council meetings, to write to their councillors and MP and point them in the right direction. 

Solutions are out there and with a new £4.3billion devolution deal having been secured for the North of Tyne region by its Mayor Jamie Driscoll, it is time to properly look at making Marygate a hub of youth-friendly activities and in doing that, save it from becoming a deserted ‘ghost-town’.