The shopping centre where the currency is hope | Aditya Chakrabortty

Commerce has deserted Newcastle-under-Lyme’s town centre. The latest in our new economics series looks at how the community is filling the gap

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For years, all Mike Riddell has seen in his trade is failure and death. But today he’s at a birth – and all his hope rests on it. A new cafe is opening in the shopping centre he manages and they are throwing a party. Having brought along his wife and mum, 53-year-old Riddell goes into “full-on host mode”, chatting up council officials and swapping elaborate handshakes with teenagers. Yes Sir, I Can Boogie blasts out of the stereo, and some obliging soul in a Spider-Man costume complies. Over all the music and chat, you can hear the free ping-pong tables getting a pounding. Yes sir, clip-clop, clip-clop, I can boogie, clip-clop, clip-clop.

Through the big windows, you can see the world Riddell normally faces – and it’s desolate. No babble, no mucking about. Hardly anyone clip-clops past. On this Tuesday lunchtime at York Place, the most tired shopping centre in Newcastle-under-Lyme, just outside Stoke, there are few actual shoppers.

This is commonsense radicalism: retrieving things discarded by the market, whether shops or goods or people, and giving them a social value

Related: The school that shows good food is not just for posh kids | Aditya Chakrabortty

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Related: How a small town reclaimed its grid and sparked a community revolution | Aditya Chakrabortty

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