Arts aficionado Dorian Kelly has come up with ten ways to ‘save’ Colchester. He believes we should trumpet and celebrate all that is special about our town, especially its rich history. Here are his first five suggestions.

LAST year was an interesting one.

“Interesting” as in the ancient Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times”.

No, not Covid/Brexit, fascinating as they are, but “interesting” decisions being made right here in Colchester regarding policies which will rebalance our town away from its best future as a prosperous tourist, heritage, arts and culture-led community to a character-lite, ex-military dormitory town with little income and a deserted town centre.

All towns change and Colchester, as a developing, enterprising town, is no different.

In our tint town centre, continuous development has had the unfortunate effect over the centuries of sweeping away lots of the period features that are so “in your face” in places like Winchester, Chester or Canterbury.

So no, it doesn’t look like an ancient town at first sight.

OK, we don’t sweat the big stuff like the castle, the ruins of the priory, our ancient walls and Jumbo - you can hardly miss those.

But without someone to point it out, the average tourist wouldn’t know we have the remains of the oldest church in Britain or know how to find the traces of Britain’s only chariot racing track.

They wouldn’t know to go to the Abbeygate or about the amazing things that happened on St Johns Green.

Or that we used to be the capital of Britain. Twice.

Braintree and Witham Times: Writer, performer and arts promoter Dorian KellyWriter, performer and arts promoter Dorian Kelly

Tourism is worth over £7.5 billion a year in this region.

If we, the oldest recorded town and Britain’s First City, can’t attract a transformative one percent of that, we are obviously not trying.

So: here are the first five of my ten suggestions to save Colchester.

1) Appoint a independent journalist to plug the town and raise its profile every single day through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, WhatsApp, letters and columns in national newspapers, hit and run stuff, trenchant, contentious where needed and, above all, not corporate, to get the message about our astonishing cultural offer across. Free advertising and social engineering has enormous impact.

2) Run a free shuttle minibus every half hour from North Station to High Street for return rail ticket holders. Use the ten minutes it takes to play a commentary. Make sure there are maps, downloads and leaflet packs with discount vouchers for everyone.

3) Appoint half a dozen properly trained costumed, street ambassador/storytellers/information dispensers whose job it is to greet and delight visitors, ready with all the dramatised stories and songs for adults and children, maps and free Colchester-branded rain ponchos. We have the spectacular Town Watch. Let’s fund them properly and use them more.

4) Lots of towns in the UK have traditions and customs that they exploit for tourism, so let’s rediscover our own, or devise some new ones, such as “The Presenting of the Colchester Pudding”, a daily trumpet call from the town hall balcony (an idea stolen from Krakow where it is a massive attraction) the throwing of buns at Christmas, an annual spectacular historical parade from the site of the Temple of Claudius to the Roman Circus followed by a Roman Festival and feast, licensed street entertainers and buskers everywhere and street festivals annually. Make more of the now almost invisible Oyster Feast by holding a public oyster/fish and chips festival in the street at the same time.

5) Like many European cities who have made a strong distinction between “The Old Town” and the commercial and residential areas surrounding it, we must prioritise tourism in those areas and completely ban any kind of development which does little or nothing to encourage a better visitor experience. The surrounding areas can then blossom with new developments.


Can you spot yourself in these Colchester school pictures from the 80s and 90s?

The night Elton rocked the night away in Colchester (before social distancing!)

Going Dutch with vintage pictures from one of the oldest parts of town