No Country for Me, Then: Unsettled Now

I was born in Colchester. I am proud of being an Essex girl. Always have been. Always will be. That landscape formed me as surely as did the generations of my family who settled and were born there. If I had to call anywhere ‘home’, that’s where it is. Or was. You see, now I’m not so sure anymore.

I lived there for the first five years of my life, until my father took a job in another town (one I can’t be bothered to name) and so, away we went. We came back every Christmas to see family and friends, occasionally we returned to mark other, happier or sadder, events. As soon as I could I moved back. Why? Because however infrequent my visits, wherever else I may have been, Colchester was ‘home’. The sight of the town from the train always made me smile. Returning from working abroad? Returning from a day’s work in London? No matter, the view never tired for me – until now. I’ve changed.

The place has changed, too. That’s all to the good; I love visiting museums, I don’t want to live in one. Adaptive change is healthy, people and places growing together. This year though, for the first time, I saw not Britain’s oldest recorded town, but Britain’s fastest-growing town. In my lifetime, Essex University has arrived and thrived, Colchester Garrison all but disappeared, and people have come and gone. Now, they simply come. And come they do, in great number, from all over. The pace and nature of growth is shocking, and not just to me.

“I must admit I’m a little shocked that we’re right at the top of the growth league for population.” Paul Smith, Colchester councillor responsible for resources (31-05-2010, Colchester Gazette). Way to go with planning, eh? He then said this meant there was more need for investment. No room to breathe or think, let’s just invest. With what? From where? In whom? For what? The Office for National Statistics predicted in 2010 that the town’s population would rise by 18.9% over the period 2008-2018. Private building projects march on, even while local and regional councillors make cuts in public services. Green space disappears, roads are gridlocked, the railway groans with the weight of the commuters, everyone’s going nowhere fast and somewhere slowly. Yet, people keep coming.

Do they know where they’re coming to? Do they care? Where are the Colcestrians? The greater the growth, the less space there is for me. Colchester, this could be the end of our affair.