Back behind the trusty typewriter for another Mayor’s Column. I firstly wanted to thank everyone who has made the effort to tell me they enjoy these columns and look forward to reading them. Absolutely no pressure at all!
It’s been a week of adjustment for many after we said goodbye to the Co-op in the Westway shopping precinct, there has been a lot of upset and disappointment surrounding the closure of this store and the Post Office within it. There have been many ‘Fromours’ and a lot of speculation recently about the reasoning for the Co-op’s exit from the town centre, almost all of which has been conjecture from individuals who “think they know”. I would ere on the side of caution while hearing these speculations. While the Co-op is no longer here what we do know is that talks are still progressing to ensure there is a Post Office in the town centre.
In my almost a decade of working at the Co-op, I reconnected with the town after a 4–5-year absence studying, I grew up and matured a lot during this time. Many life events/moments were set into motion due to the fantastic networking opportunity being on the till gave me. I learned a lot about humanity, community, strength, struggle, societal disparities, mental health, resilience, courage, spirit, respect and love. The whole spectrum of the human experience in the 21st century was laid out in front of me over the years and it’s been the most valuable education as I enjoyed my 20’s and now turn one eye towards my 30’s.
The closing of this Co-op has been a profound blow to Frome town centre in so many ways; this was more than simply somewhere to buy shopping, get your ciggies and top up your gas and electric, this was a hub of social interaction, a place to exchange ideas and find out about what’s happening in Frome, a place to connect people, to catch up with people. A venue to provide valuable comfort and social interaction to the lonely.
During the early lockdowns in 2020 the Co-op was a beacon of normality and routine to so many. The elderly who were having to be very strict with isolation would often squeeze every second of interaction and conversation out of their visits as they could, and we were happy to recognise this and make the extra effort to lift their spirits. I’m always reminded of a scene in the pilot episode of the original Star Trek series where Boyce (The Enterprise’s Doctor) visits Captain Pike in his quarters. It’s a welfare visit of sorts; they have a brief interaction when Boyce opens up his bag and asks, ‘Who wants a warm Martini?” to which Pike replies: ‘What makes you think I need one?” and Boyce hits him with the wisdom of “Sometimes a man will tell his bartender things he’ll never tell his doctor”. The number of times myself and my team were the bartenders in this analogy is countless, being a trusted ear, someone neutral and trustworthy led people to tell us and open up to us about the most private and troublesome aspects of their lives, and we would often find ourselves giving counsel and a much-needed listening ear and it’s my staunch belief that we have saved a few lives over the years. The Co-op was much more than the sum of its parts. If love, appreciation and heart paid the bills, the Co-op would be there forever, but the pound is the only thing the capitalist bottom line recognises. The work being done in that Co-op everyday could not be quantified or summarised in a job description. This, in my opinion, is the great and substantial loss to the community.