Aah, Hatfield, my Hatfield, town of intrigue, mystery, passion and, er, charity shops… Well, to be absolutely honest only one of the above is true! (OK, I’ll give you a hint, it’s not a town of passion, intrigue or mystery!) Yes, I have to say that I have never before lived in any town or city with such a high percentage of charity shops in the town centre. This, unfortunately, says rather a lot about the kind of town that Hatfield is. Like the unwanted goods taken into the aforementioned charity shops Hatfield used to be great, but now the thrill has gone and it’s just sitting on a shelf along with the second hand teddy bears and dodgy floral vests waiting for somebody to pick it up, dust it off and breathe some new life into it’s tired old bones. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, let me start at the beginning (those with a low boredom threshold may want to stop reading now!!!) Many, many years ago, well, about six or seven years ago if you want me to be precise, Hatfield was a thriving Southern town with a booming local economy. Located on the A1 with fast and easy access to London, a fantastic new cut-price shopping centre (The Galleria) and the local British Aerospace factory (which employed a huge percentage of the local population) life in Hatfield was Rosy. Unfortunately, British Aerospace decided that Hatfield was no longer the right place for it’s operations and pulled out of the town, and that, as they say, was that! Overnight Hatfield went from a thriving small town to a veritable ghost town. Many people in the aerospace industry relocated to other sites in the UK, those that were left in Hatfield were mainly unskilled and semi-skilled workers not only faced with redundancy, but with very little prospects of finding a decent job in their home town. You see, not only were BAE Hatfield’s largest employer, they were practically the only employer of any size in Hatfield.
The departure of British Aerospace pretty much signalled the beginning of the end for Hatfield, sucked the life out of the town. Of course, once the town was less affluent the high-street shops in the town centre found they weren’t making such high profits and, like rats leaving a sinking ship, pulled out of the town one by one. Could things ever get any better for Hatfield again? Skip forward a year or two. My husband and I are living in Nottingham, we’ve both got jobs we love, everything in the skittle household is looking good. Wham, bam, my boss hits me with a doozy! “Sorry, but we’re relocating the office to London, if you want to keep your job you’ll have to move!” Given just a few short weeks to make a decision we finally decide that moving is the only option, but now we have to find somewhere to live, and we only have two days to do it in! We arrive in London flushed with the prospect of finding our new home. All excited we bustle into the nearest estate agent’s (my new office was in Covent Garden) only to find that the rent on a one bedroomed flat in central London would cost more than I was actually being paid! “Try further out, it’s cheaper on the outskirts of London” suggested the helpful estate agent. So we tried further out, and further out again, and as far out as we could possibly go and still be in London, and then we tried Hatfield. Aah, finally, a house for rent at a price we can afford! So, that’s how we finished up in Hatfield, a cruel twist in the lottery of life! We moved into our new home, conveniently located in full view of the now defunct Aerospace factory, and settled into life in Hatfield. Now, I have to be honest here and say that the atmosphere in Hatfield at that time was not altogether uplifting! Simmering in a veritable fog of depression would probably be a much more apt description. Not only had BAE gone, but the local A
sda decided to close their doors for nigh on a year to rebuild their supermarket. This left the town with only one major supermarket remaining, which is very easy to get to by car, but as it’s right on the extreme edge of the town it isn’t easy for anybody living on the opposite side. It also didn’t help that public transport in the Hatfield area is absolutely appalling, quite the worst I’ve ever come across. The town was also suffering problems with gangs of children from out of town visiting the Hatfield Forum ( a sort of teenagers youth club cum disco) and reeking havoc, upsetting the locals, fighting with the local kids, mugging, stabbing, raping, you name it, they did it. As if this wasn’t enough, the University of Hertfordshire, located in and around Hatfield, was now the largest employer in the town. Of course, Universities mean students and, like many towns, in Hatfield there was a huge local/student divide with lots of angry letters in the local paper (the Welwyn and Hatfield Times) and general unfriendliness. All was certainly not well on the Hatfield front, and I have to admit that there were times when I REALLY regretted moving here, but believe it or not, things actually appear to be looking up for Hatfield now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all wine and roses yet, and it’s been a pretty hard slog for this poor little town, but yes, things are definitely improving, and I believe it’s mostly down to the local council (Welwyn Hatfield Council, in case you’re interested). They’ve worked damn hard to bring industry back to Hatfield to provide jobs for the local populous, and it seems that their dedication is starting to pay off. It was a gradual process, at first barely noticeable, news of the first new business coming to Hatfield after BAE left, ASDA opening a brand-spanking new (and VERY impressive) supermarket in the town centre, plans to build on the di
sused Aerospace site, ideas for a new tram service linking Hatfield to other nearby towns (thus improving the abysmal public transport service!) Yes, things are definitely looking better. One of the first jewels in the Hatfield crown has to be the Hatfield Business Park. Located on the edge of town on part of the old Aerospace sight the Business Park is home to several impressive businesses including an important IT company and soon a VERY large mobile phone service provider. Of course, I’ve already mentioned the University, which is a very definite asset to Hatfield, providing not only jobs for the local people but enticing more people to the area (in the form of students) to provide a much needed source of income for local landlords, shops and businesses. The enmity between the students and the locals appears to have died down, with most people living together in harmony (or at least learning to tolerate each other) now. There were some other, rather bizarre advantages to BAE leaving Hatfield. For one thing, the house prices in the local area suddenly shot up, as residents no longer had to put up with low flying aircraft over their houses. And then there’s “Hatfield Studios”. What, you’ve never heard of Hatfield Studios? Are you sure? Well, to be honest you wouldn’t have unless you lived locally. You see, Hatfield Studios (now, sadly, deceased) was basically an enormous field, actually part of the disused British Aerospace site in Hatfield (are you starting to notice a common theme here?) You might have heard of a little American flick by the name of Saving Private Ryan. Yes? Well, believe it or not most of that was shot on the BAE site in Hatfield, and that was just the start! Mr Spielberg was SO impressed with the location that he came back last year to film his new series in Hatfield. Since then there have been rumours of several other film companies popping into Hatfield to do a li
ttle filming, I did hear that parts of Tomb Raider were filmed here, but can’t confirm that this is true! New businesses have moved into the vacant shops in the town centre. OK, the huge majority of them are charity shops or “£1 shops” at the moment, but we’re starting to see signs of new hope, people placing their faith in the town again. Not only has ASDA reopened bigger, better and brighter than before, but we’ve got a gorgeous new Indian restaurant, Chinese takeaway, hairdressers and a fantastic monthly farmers market. Out of the ashes rose the Phoenix, or something like that anyway! Oddly, the local pubs, which had a VERY bad reputation for being some of the roughest in Hertfordshire, have calmed down enormously in the last year or two. I can only put this down to the general lifting of spirits throughout the town as new industry moves in and breathes new life into the place. Of course, Hatfield is also home to the much vaunted and admired Galleria, home to many great factory shops including Littlewoods, Whittards, TK Maxx, Carlton and River Island to name but a few. It’s always absolutely packed at the weekend (though it bears a remarkable resemblance to the Marie-Celeste on a weekday!) OK, Hatfield, isn't about to become the next Brighton, it's not THAT cosmopolitan or up-and-coming, but I think we're doing very nicely, thank you very much! Building has begun (again, on the old BAE site) on lovely, new “affordable housing” for local people who have found themselves priced out of the property market in the recent property boom. The Forum, which caused so many problems when I first moved here, was closed down, thus removing the reason for the gathering together of so many youths, and preventing the mob mentality that had previously ruled. There are plans to build new schools, hotels, business premises and even an Aerospace museum, which I think is the perfect ending
to this little story... British Aerospace almost killed Hatfield when they left, but it’s the British Aerospace site that is going to rejuvenate the town. Aah, it’s almost like a fairy story, the beautiful princess kissed the ugly little town and whispered “Hatfield, come down off that shelf, you shall go to the ball!”