“Last night I dreamed I went to Heartlands again...”
Lucky Daphne Du Maurier, who had Mandalay to dream about. Last week I really did go to Heartlands again.
For those who don’t know Heartlands is a 19 acre plot of former mining land in Pool, Camborne which opened in April 2012 after a colossal £35m investment by the Big Lottery, The EU Convergence fund and Cornwall Council. Like all fellow Cornish rubberneckers I went to have a look shortly after it opened. What I noted then (apart from the parking charges) was a brilliant kids playground and not a lot else. The Robinson Shaft engine house had been restored, there was a visitor centre/shop, a mining ‘experience’ museum, a formal college-type building, lots of empty shops and offices, and a cafe. The rest of its windy acres were occupied by a Diaspora Garden, a huge pool (to help remind you where you were?), and acres and acres of exposed gravel and turf.
Nearly two years on I returned to see how it was progressing. The playground was still brilliant, and must have accounted for most of the cars in the car-park since even at half-term there was practically no-one in the main concourse. If you want to visit the Robinson Shaft engine house don’t turn up on spec - the out-of-season tours happen only once a day, and then for a maximum of 12 people. The cavernous cafe looked sad with seven people in it and is still on the pricey side. The shop is laid out like a charity stall. The complex of retail shops and offices has somehow failed to attract the paying tenants who must have loomed large in the original business plan. The mining experience was authentically wet and noisy without telling much of a story – not easy with such a rich heritage to draw on. The Diaspora Garden is a nice idea – plants from everywhere Cornish refugees ended up - but looks like any other Cornish exotic garden. And the pool? Wide and pointless it is presumably topped up with sulphuric acid every day to ensure that nothing living grows in it or obscures your view of tons of pebbles. The rest is as bleak as before.
Oh it’s easy to be negative and make fun, especially if you’ve read Cornwall Council’s own puff for “state-of-the-art exhibitions... gardens of epic diversity ...” etc. Heartlands will point to 44% of its Trip-Adviser comments which rated it ‘excellent’ - most local comments admittedly landed down at the other end – and it must be a nice place to take the kids on a sunny day. But for £35m it’s still a complete flop, an in-your-face insult to all the other worthwhile and interesting Cornish enterprises starving for want of a scrape of that money. If you want to explore an authentic and moving display of our mining heritage, Geevor is only another 20 miles to the west and does it properly. Heartlands still doesn’t really know what it’s for.
But Cornwall Council’s desire to send everyone to an industrial wasteland hasn’t stopped at Heartlands. Just around the corner is Carn Brea Leisure Centre, of which the jewel is its athletic ground and running track; as its web-site says ‘the only 8-lane all-weather running track in Cornwall’ which has sent generations of young Cornish athletes on to greater things. In these days of childhood obesity and poor health it’s just what’s needed. Or at least more conducive to good health than a retail complex, a giant ASDA, a Cineworld Multiplex, and a smattering of restaurants, which is what Cornwall Council have now agreed in principle to put on it, in partnership with Mayfair-based developers Salmon Harvester Properties. Cornwall Council has pledged the proceeds of the sale to refurbishing the rest of the leisure centre – yeah, right. What it certainly will do is further strangle the already desperate businesses of Camborne, Redruth and outlying towns and persuade even more people into their cars rather than their local shopping centres.
In fact the best use for the ex-industrial land bank is to be found further round the corner in such as Carn Brea Business Park, where many thriving small and medium-sized businesses provide goods we really want and precious year-round employment, a true bond with the area’s industrial past. Making Pool fun is, and always was, a lost cause. Any funding available would be far better spent attracting new businesses and setting up local enterprises, putting money into local people’s pockets not siphoning more of it out