All I want for Christmas is a new Broadmarsh Centre

As a youth, we would get the bus from Cotgrave to town every Saturday and hang about the Broadmarsh all day. Highlights included: jumping in trolleys and zooming down to the bus station, gawping at posters in Athena, wondering what a bender in a bap was at Wimpy (and why there weren’t more Wimpys) and causing havoc in the department stores to get chased by the security guard. In 2009 I tracked down the security guard who used to chase us (Eagon Chambers) and interviewed him for LeftLion.

I have no other fond memories of the Broadmarsh.

Today, it’s an ugly grey concrete lump that blocks your view of the city. I feel ashamed that it’s the first thing people see when they get off the train and head towards town. What message does this say about our city, our ambitions, our values? When the coronavirus lockdown brought a grinding halt to the intu redevelopment plan, I was ecstatic. The last thing Nottingham needed was another generic shopping centre like every other city. Now the council is forced to think differently and more imaginatively about city planning. Hallelujah.

The council is under enormous pressure at the moment as it faces bankruptcy after losing 38million in the failed Robin Hood Energy scheme and the various impacts of Covid on city life. Therefore, the temptation will (understandably) be focused on job creation and monetisation of public space. But we need to ride the storm. This is an incredible opportunity to do something different. We’re meant to be the rebel city, why not rebel against convention and tradition? We can do this by turning to our heritage.

A century before the industrial revolution, Nottingham was known as The Garden City due to its rich green landscape. We are home to Sherwood Forest and a certain bow selector. Let’s build on this heritage by striving to become a green city. Pop up markets and shops will provide the flexibility that covid demands as well as spaces for independents – many of whom will need support now that start-ups are becoming one of the most viable forms of employment as Arcadia etc headbutt the pavement.

The way we consume culture now is different. We stream, subscribe and share. Therefore, city space needs to reflect this fluidity. We need benches, trees, parks (think Henry Kirke White and Clifton Grove), places to commune, sit and reflect. Areas for gathering. Areas for communities. Yes, you can lob in a couple of coffee shops. Walls could be used to project artwork and films. But above all, keep it green. Replace pavements with pastures. Give us air we can breathe for once. In 2019, research found that poor air quality in Nottingham was responsible for more deaths than alcohol and road incidents combined.

My dream scenario would take inspiration from the ‘Gardens by the Bay’ in Singapore. Creating something green, iconic, and unique would generate tourism, giving people a proper reason to visit Nottingham. And you can still have your shops, just not here. A promenade of trees leading up to Market Square would drive the masses to Primani et all, thereby drawing clear distinctions in city space. Listen to people like Sarah Manton and the People’s Forest project which aims to reconnect Sherwood Forest with Nottingham. They will help you create a green trail through the city.

The redesigned Central Library would be the epicentre of this design. A place that values ideas, community, and imagination, with the snout of the Contemporary poking out in the distance. Nottingham’s new anthem will be the Stealers Wheels, with tourists singing: “The castle to the left of me! Nottingham College to the right! Here I am stuck in the library with you.”

If I’d have had a great green lump of grass greeting me in the 1980s, and the colours and smells of nature enticing me to sit down and be calm, I doubt I’d have felt the need to be so chelpy with security guards as a youth.

You can have your say about the future of the Broadmarsh Centre by visiting the Creative Quarter website and completing the public survey or business survey. The surveys are open until the 27 December 2020

The Central Library Wishlist





Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature and the City Council are forming an innovative partnership to ensure the construction of the new Central Library has the potential to raise literacy levels, position the library as a focal point of the community, and build upon Nottingham’s rich literary history. These are issues very close to my heart. When I created Dawn of the Unread, a literary graphic novel exploring Nottingham’s literary history, it was very much a love letter to libraries and the potential of books to transform lives. Therefore, I was ridiculously excited to join in a consultation event hosted by Sandy Mahal and Nigel Hawkings at NTU. Here’s my top 5 wish list…








You and Mee (or Mee time or Mee, Myself and I or You get mee, etc)

Arthur Mee (21 July 1875 – 27 May 1943) is best known as the author of the Children’s Encyclopædia and The Children’s Newspaper, the first newspaper published for children. Born in Stapleford, he earned money as a teenager reading the reports of Parliament to a local blind man. All of which makes him perfect to be featured in some capacity at the library. In terms of literacy, teenagers could be encouraged to produce their own newspaper (digital or physical) to build on his legacy, possibly to be overseen by the Young Ambassadors. Or he could simply be recognised within the library in the children’s reading area ‘You and Mee’ as a means of cementing Nottingham’s rich history of encouraging young people to read.

The Human Library

The Human Library® is a brilliant concept whereby readers loan out humans and have conversations they would not normally have access to. The organisation was created in 2000 to create dialogue around difficult subjects. A variation on this (or partnership) could see skill-sharing sessions to help improve literacy levels. For example, specialists could lend their skills (I’m James and I specialise in producing digital heritage projects, loan me for 30 minutes for support on your ideas) or library users could request specialist ‘books’ (people) which could be sourced. Imagine young people actively seeking information on knife crime, difficulties at home and how to deal with them, help with homework, finding friends. The potential is massive. Given this organisation exists they would need to be consulted and partnered with.

Digital screens/Tik Tok

I recently visited Krakow, a fellow UNESCO City of Literature, and in one museum was a 360 degree screen telling the history of the city. A similar screen at the library could have multiple purposes in commissioning new work (which could address particular themes) as an information space, or to project new creative work self-generated by locals. One medium which would work well here is Tik Tok which is basically a 15 second platform that acts as a stage and positions the audience as performer. Content is quick and easy to create on your phone, feeds off of meme culture, and enables creative expression that is relevant to younger people. There is potential to curate ‘best of’ sessions, again possibly run by the Young Ambassadors. A good starting point for ideas would be Nick Robertson, the BBC’s social media content producer who was discovered making snapchat videos about his life working in Starbucks. The fact that all people above 30 will probably hate this medium is the exact reason it should be embraced.

Library App

Now is the time to bring the library card into the 21st century with an app that enables users to visualise their reading history. Whether we like it or not apps provide simple ways of monitoring and motivating behaviour. A FitBit tells you how far you’ve walked, Netflix algorithms tell you what to watch next, etc. A library app could perform similar functions and act as a digital guide. I’ve been teaching a module at an international college for 10 years where I get students to design a mobile app. Overwhelmingly 85% of them come up with an app that shows them how to do things… There is also opportunities or partnerships here with Vue cinema in the neighbouring Broadmarsh Centre. When you get out your first six books, you get a free cinema ticket…

Confessional booth

I’ve used booths before in various projects such as the East Midlands Heritage Awards and they always work because people love talking one to one. A digital booth in the library would allow readers to share their favourite books or characters. These could be projected onto digital screens, linked to an app, or simply viewed in the booth. This idea builds on the readers recommendations you see in places like Waterstones. But more importantly it shows young people that their opinions and ideas are valued. It is one of numerous ways to build an inclusive community.

James is currently working on Whatever People Say I Am, a graphic novel serial challenging stereotypes, and D.H. Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage, a memory theatre exploring Lawrence through artefacts.

This blog was originally published on the Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature website on 9 March 2020. You can subscribe to their newsletter here.