My analysis of the Treaty Centre last week needed some field work. I made a tour of the interior of the Treaty Centre to look for signs of businesses suffering and how the space was being used.
The entrance area before the sliding doors has market-type stalls selling fruit & vegetables. The area is flanked by a coffee shop – still trading – and a men’s clothing shop – still trading. The first shops the visitor sees upon entering were trading. This was a Wednesday afternoon so I did not expect high volumes of footfall. I was more interested in the type of business inside the shopping centre.
The ground floor seating space between the shops was a fairly full, as were the seats in the coffee shop and juice bar. In more than one table there were groups of middle aged/elderly men, predominantly Asian. The coffee shop had some middle aged/elderly white couples, along with mothers and toddlers or babies.
The ground floor shops can be grouped into clothing, beauty, jewellery, mobile phones, fast food. The closure of Debenhams has a negative impact on the scene in the larger ground floor courtyard where the escalator ascends to the upper two levels and car park. The two larger stores that front the high street are Next – clothing and furnishing, and H&M – a clothing store. I counted only three unoccupied units, two of which are at the Hanworth Road exit end. I wondered if there is a ‘natural’ turnover of units in the lifetime of a shopping centre. Debenhams’ departure stands out as a serious sign that current models of retail are in trouble. Although I am unclear why Debenhams closed, I think it has something to do with the parent company’s debt being bought by a hedge fund and being asset stripped.
On the second floor is a Job Centre and Hounslow’s Art Centre that includes a theatre. New productions have started again according to the posters. I looked in the window and the bar was not open. I did not climb to the next level, which was a barber’s shop and the top floor of Debenhams, leading on the the roof car park.
Where the Treaty Centre differs from the rest of the High Street, and the continuation into London Road, is the national identity or stated clientele. Such as ‘Middle Eastern, Asian, Halal’. Other European nationalities are also present, such as a Russian shop that incorporates a greeting cards business, and a Romanian patisserie on Kingsley Road that connects Hounslow East tube station with the High Street and the London Road.
What Hounslow lacks, now that Debenhams has gone, is somewhere to buy clothes for a formal occasion or business dress. Just like most shopping areas now, there are no suppliers of furniture. The only furniture shop, Harveys, in a 1990s parade, is now empty. There are no traditional pubs on the high street, just ‘Gio’s bar’. The nearest pub is the Bulstrode pub next to Hounslow Central tube station, around a five minute walk from the Treaty Centre. The next nearest would be the Coach and Horses on the London Road, ten minutes from the Treaty Centre. So Hounslow lacks the local pubs that, until the past twenty years, lasted decades and were used as way points for strangers. Which emphasises that the Treaty Centre in its present form, along with Holy Trinity church, is the only landmark in the high street.
The High Street has charity shops that do not appear in the Treaty Centre. It also has multiples such as W H Smith – incorporating a Post Office, Argos, McDonalds, Holland & Barrett, Superdrug, Rymans, Barclays Bank, Caffe Nero. Those would appear in almost any metropolitan high street. Based on this fieldwork, Hounslow has every form of shop typical required to serve a working class area. Comparing the Treaty Centre to the rest of the High Street demonstrates that it must be the key shopping destination in the centre of Hounslow. The shops are better presented because the fittings and facades are more recent. For example, the High Street has shops with more a of a bazaar feel, such as a variety of hardware, textiles etc, piled up to sell with no style of presentation or branding.
Many new flats have risen nearby. Two blocks overlook the bus garage on Kingsley Road, a block is being fitted out in ‘High Street Quarter’ in the centre of the main shopping area, and there are flats above the Blenheim shopping centre and office conversions on Lampton Road. There was no means of discerning the social class of the residents of these flats. There are also recent low rise blocks off the high street that may be social housing.
Perversely, the desertification of the typical high street is a requirement of a greener society. A reduction in the production and consumption of short life consumer goods would be a positive thing in reducing pollution and long life litter around the world. Fashion clothing, for example, produces a lot of waste, pollution, and child labour. If that disappeared, the West would suffer a massive culture shock but it would give the environment a chance to recover.
As it is, the loss of the Treaty Centre to flats and bar/restaurants would be a shock for the economic viability of the town centre.