I’m moving to Folkestone on Friday. My hope is that by moving to a bigger town I’ll find a more representative culture for me to enter. It’s a decision I’ve not taken lightly – Harlow has been my home for a long time. I do love this place, but the feelings I have for Harlow are 75 per cent positive, 25 per cent negative. Now The Square has gone there’s nothing really holding me here. For fifteen years it was my home away from home, a live music and performance venue the likes of which is unlikely to be repeated. Whenever I left town I knew that when I returned it would be there for me. With all the uncertainty over its future the past few years left me in limbo; if it was still open I’d stay.

 

Harlow is full of creatives, who now lack a venue to express themselves. 

I was just a toddler when my parents came to Harlow. We didn’t travel far; Hastingwood, to be precise. The move came about during one winter when we got snowed in. My mother, more used to urban locations, couldn’t cope with that. She pestered my dad and wore him down until he agreed to move.

Harlow allowed me to find myself. However, my punk influences didn’t go down too well at school. The hairstyle was fine, but seeing as I was at a Catholic school, dyeing my hair was seen as an affront to God. Aged thirteen, my parents split up – this led to me developing a few behaviour issues at school. But to be honest, the education system was never really a good fit for me anyhow – I was and still am much more of a hands-on learner.

Beyond the school gates those with an ‘alternative’ look, including myself, were often inundated with verbal abuse. Around the turn of the Millennium there was a real separation of youth subcultures. It’s still a relevant issue now, but to a lesser degree (again, in no small part due to The Square). The more it opened its doors to different music, the more the subcultures in the town seemed to accept each other. The venue became a place we could all hang around together and get drunk cheaply. 

One thing I’ve noticed in Harlow is the abundance of community centres. Every few miles there seems to be one. However, they never seem to get used for anything other than polling stations and maybe the odd kids’ birthday party. You gotta ask yourself why they aren’t used to bring the community together? Then they go and close The Square – the one place in the town that was ‘of sorts’ acting as a community hub and creating harmony between different groups. Even if you didn’t feel accepted anywhere else in Harlow, you could guarantee yourself a welcome at The Square – a true home to waifs and strays.

Aside from being a chef, my other passion is clowning. Not the scary kind; more slapstick humour. I’m part of a collective of seventy festival-goers called The Lovely Time Clowns. Apart from the obvious, we all have another thing in common – stressful jobs. We find that acting like idiots, for the benefit of others, helps us unwind.

Even though I’m leaving I can say that Harlow is a great place – I really mean that. It’s ghetto fabulous! It has a feeling unlike anywhere else I’ve experienced living. As if it’s trying to be big-town, which it isn’t, coming up short but not giving in – I say this with the utmost affection.

The town is full of characters you’ll not meet anywhere else. Beautifully damaged people, who through no fault of their own have been dealt a bad hand. But within them is this unbridled positivity that flows and enables them to carry on. It’s the people and The Square that have made me stick around for this long. 

Harlow is one of those towns that if you let it drag you down it will take you all the way. But if, like me, you just go with it, embrace it and roll with the punches – then it’s a great place. 

© 2018 CHRIS HADDON

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