This opinion column is written by Marilyn Stowe. Marilyn built the largest family law firm in the UK which she ran from Harrogate. She sold her firm in 2017 to private equity left the law and is now a writer and speaker.
How sad is Harrogate right now? Long gone are those days of my glorious morning commute to Harrogate, stunning views of the Harewood Estate and the Yorkshire Dales in the distance, on the one side and on a clear day, even the Kilburn White Horse on the other, accompanying me en route, until I finally sped up the hill into a town already active at 7.30am, busy with folk walking purposefully to work on the Stray.
I used to turn right at James Street to check out the shops, in case something caught my eye for a spot of lunchtime shopping and finally it was second right, into Raglan Street, to my office filled with colourful flowers outside, so pretty we regularly entered the Harrogate in Bloom competition and did quite well.
I was lucky working in the gorgeous Old Court House. Newly qualified, I had nervously appeared there, pre its refurbishment, before crusty magistrates. My own office, up the imposing stone stairs faced out onto the park. It used to be the solicitors’ waiting room where I paced about practising what to say.
What a difference 30 years can make! “She’s always dressed in terrifying black ” a client’s husband once said of me after one meeting he left sweating, and I laughed because I dressed in black, precisely for that reason. When I finally left work in 2017, out went entire wardrobes of black and oh what a joy that was.
For the last year though, I’ve dressed in drab dark navy. Sweater, shirt, loose pants, gilet – all navy blue. When this damn thing is over, they will all get thrown in the bin and my mood will improve. Meanwhile I’ve got used to sitting on a bench outside Starbucks shoving a paper mask in my handbag to drink a skinny flat white in the drizzle, mask on again to shop in Marks and Spencer – and let’s not forget Boots. For a bit of comfort Hotel Chocolat is open too. Even so, Harrogate is empty. Soulless. Locked down just like us.
This isn’t the Harrogate I love. It’s not the joyous Harrogate of my Granny’s Edwardian era when she reminisced how she and her own grandmother used to holiday here to take the waters and watch a show.Today, horribly, many empty shops in town will never reopen.
So why cant we try and save as many as we can – now?
Why are some shops and offices trading well, taking advantage and not the rest? Why can’t we get a hair cut? Why can’t we at least sit outside in cafes and enjoy ourselves? With half the population vaccinated, and if vaccination is working as well as they tell us, then why not?
Harrogate urgently needs to be released from captivity, it will take years to recover. No wonder I’m dressed in dreary navy blue to sit on a street bench. When freedom finally comes, watch out for the Woman in Red.
That will be me.
- More than half the district’s population receives covid vaccine
- Harrogate bars call on council to allow table and chairs on Stray land