Worcester remains true to its heritage as it embraces new change.


Only a decade ago, Worcester seemed well behind bigger cities in its drive to "move with the times".

Why change when so many homes at its ancient core bagged a privileged ringside seat of the unchanging Malverns?

Such a green outlook reminds that urban success is mostly rooted in the land, the agriculture that fed the local trades in addition to the communication routes, which here, include the natural gift of the Severn.

The canals came too, perfect trade routes for what was made in Worcester, the cloth and the prized porcelain included.

But Worcester, despite huge expansion, remains approachable. It still classes as compact - and knows that it is all the better for it modest proportions.

It was a good five years after Birmingham embraced city living when Worcester saw its first forays into the same, "new" residential thing.

It was too late to cite London's Docklands as a model, well established when its success spurred waterside Birmingham into long-awaited action.

Look at the "new", emerging Worcester fringes to see the influences, finally coming into their own as the regeneration bug bites.

A lot of water has flowed past Worcester since long queues of local buyers waited anxiously to bag their share of the action - and a brand new city apartment.

The first, purpose-built apartment homes did the trick, with or without a view of the water. They spelled a new sophistication that Worcester knew was ridiculously late.

There were also groundbreaking townhouses in the new style, brand new homes on old plots that raised the standard for traditional Worcester, giving a thrilling taste of urban "delights" - enough to keep aspirational types in the small city they love.

Take a trip now down to the traditional Diglis area of town, within close sight of the cathedral, the river and the canal to witness the "easy on Sunday morning" thing.

Though the sun is not exactly blazing, there are young things on their modern balconies, drinking coffee as they gaze at the colourful basin with its busy barge-folk scrubbing their decks and dead-heading their plants.

At this end of waterside Worcester, it is actually a huge change, bringing more people to live, for new reasons, in a renewed part of the city.

It is not exactly the industrial canalside that saw only workers since the canal came to town. People have lived close by for centuries, near their work - and every other advantage.

The famous Royal Worcester Porcelain was a major industry just here, still commemorated by its popular museum.

Diglis, now the focal point of serious waterside regeneration, has been billed as both a Docklands and a Brindleyplace for all the clever plans, including restaurants, shops and a new city park which will make better use of an unexploited stretch of the Severn.

The canal finally opened in 1815 but it was all rather expensive and just 50 years later, with the railway now on the scene, maintenance suffered and decay set in.

The recently shabby backwater with its collection of small businesses and difficult road access has been transformed in just a few years with more to come.

If you look up from the water, you will see the cathedral tower, the cross of St George, period buildings marching up the hill alongside Fort Royal Park - and a towering crane in the foreground, marking the spot of current construction.

Whatever the market mood, developing Diglis has been asuccess, for the first housebuilding pioneers of the new millennium and currently, both Bryant and Berkeley.

The appeal of such regeneration is not just confined to young professionals.

Newly-retired Paul and Becky Benson were among the first to buy at Diglis in 2006, intending to use their apartment just for weekends and nights out.

But city life got to them, they decided to stay full time, have upgraded to a larger apartment - and are selling up the family home in Evesham.

Paul says: "We've always loved Worcester - we are members of Worcestershire Cricket Club and we enjoy the city centre shops and nights out."

Diglis seemed the perfect new base. "We can go for a walk along the river or stroll into the city centre at our leisure," says Paul.

"We saw the potential of being part of an exciting regeneration project and we like the sympathetic nature of the scheme, particular with the restoration of the historic buildings."

Not all change in Worcester has been as popular in recent decades. A critic of town planning might voice his despair at what Worcester has put up with in the cause of progress.

The 1960s have a lot to answer for in the road routes that strangle the best bits, including the cathedral.

A good fairy with a magic wand would keep much of Worcester intact, even its shabby bits. She might put some of the roads elsewhere to cut congestion where it matters and to let the historic areas "shine" again.

But she would also smile at the surviving treasures that jostle with the aberrations of the mid 20th century, marvelling at the gall of the humans who let it all happen.

In one direction may be a wonderful glimpse of timber-framing, in another, medieval stone-work. Yards away from any of this is just as likely to be a dismal concrete-faced building, a college or a car park.

But there is no such thing as a "show" city, free of planning mistakes, parking shortages - or traffic.

And there is more to look forward to in Worcester as it awaits the completion of a brand new campus for its university, currently underway on the site of the old Infirmary.

Duncan Saunders, an associate director with the Andrew Grant City Homes agency, also a contented resident of Barbourne, believes this is amajor step.

"It is a big leap forward and is going to bring alot of interest to the city," he says.

As an estate agent, he is well placed to watch, with interest, the perceptions of Worcester and the growing numbers of incoming buyers.

"A lot of people live in Worcester and commute to Birmingham. They appreciate the value for money they can find here and the quality of life on offer," says Duncan.

As a smaller city, though one with a long history - and proper cathedral, dating from the 11th century, the appeal is obvious.

Duncan admits that only 10 years ago, outsiders might be forgiven for thinking Worcester a little "behind the times... it is now a far more interesting place that it was."

His thoughts are echoed by Paul May of Premier Places, another estate agent who enjoys living on the patch.

"There has been alot of serious investment in the city of late - and the new university campus is an exciting development," he says.

Also drawing appreciative incomers is the city's reputation for excellent schools, conveniently concentrated in the town centre and including The Royal Grammar School, recently merged with Alice Ottley, rebranded catchily as the RGSAO.

Widening the choice is also The King's School, refounded in 1541 but with a good claim to even deeper roots in the earliest days of the cathedral.

Other respected institutions include St Mary's Convent, now the only all-girls school in the city, also the famous New College, catering for blind and partially sighted students.

The University of Worcester won its university status in 2005, previously University College Worcester.

Serious commuters, with or without children to educate, could not be better served by the location, the choice of motorway access and railway stations.

Sporting types are well looked after, the cricket is famous, also the rugby - and the race-course provides just one of the city's "green lungs" along with no fewer than three parks.

Most striking for the visitor more used to big cities, is the way Worcester sits on the banks of the Severn, its best approaches leading you down the hilly fringes to the waterside.

And much of even the low-rise housing of the 18th and 19th centuries commands surprising views beyond the city walls.

When one least expects it, the most modest window can lead your eye right to the Malverns over the jumble of rooftops. It is areminder that Worcester remains firmly part of its county and neighbouring countryside. The pace of life may be quicker than it was but there's still time to lift up one's eyes to the hills.


* Worcester was founded on the eastern banks of the Severn around 400BC

* It attracted Roman interest on the main route from Gloucester up to Wroxeter and the river ensured its place on the trading map

* There were hard times for such a strategically placed settlement, attacked several times in the 12th century

* The 17th century English Civil War also brought unwelcome attention, one of the major battles taking place at Fort Royal Park

* But the city remains loyal to the King - winning honour as "The Faithful City"

* Local trade declined in the 18th century though the canal helped in the 19th

* The British Medical Association was founded in Castle Street around 1860, the building now due to be part of the new university campus