The streets were rammed, the restaurants were full, the High Street market was positively bustling.

No, I’m not talking about Chester, York or Norwich or any other town we “should be more like”.

This was my experience in Colchester at the weekend.

OK, so it wasn’t a normal Saturday by any stretch of the imagination.

The town was full of colourful characters (no, not the type you are thinking of), thanks to Invasion Colchester.

Families came out in their droves to support the event and there was a real buzz all the way from Firstsite to Culver Square and everything in between.

It showed two things: 1. People love sci-fi, and 2. There is an appetite to visit our town centre (as long as they can see people dressed as sci-fi characters).

Don’t worry, I’m not advocating mandatory Avengers outfits for shop staff.

Frankly, superheroes would make terrible shopkeepers (they are far too unreliable).

And, let’s be honest, it would disconcerting having a Storm Trooper pointing a gun at you every time you popped to get your M&S groceries.

But as a once-a-year event, Invasion Colchester is ridiculously popular. The ambition should be there to have, let’s say, a monthly event to get people into town.


  • Turtle power - my son, Sammy Bowers, meets a Ninja Turtle at Invasion Colchester

An Easter egg hunt in April, a football-themed celebration in June to coincide with Euro 2020, a Halloween “invasion” in October; you get the idea.

Everyone I talk to about the town centre says “we’ve got to capitalise on the town’s history”.

So how about a “Colchester’s History Alive” event with Roman, Norman, Iceni, Roundhead and Cavalier re-enactors.

Perhaps it is something Colchester’s Business Improvement District, which is celebrating its first anniversary this month, will consider.

If anyone was expecting it to provide all the answers to our town centre’s problem they were being too simplistic.

It has a budget of about £500,000 a year and hundreds of businesses’ needs and views to satisfy.

Year one has been a slow burner. It has launched a website (, set up fund for independent businesses and supported Colchester in Bloom.

It will get more exciting as the project progresses.

Meanwhile, you can give the team behind the South Lanes Project a helping hand and visit the Sir Isaac’s Walk, Eld Lane, Trinity Street and Scheregate Steps today from 1pm to 3pm when the Great British High Street Awards judges will be in town.

If you can’t make it, get along and support the businesses as soon as you can.

The South Lanes team has shown they can get on and make a real difference without waiting for official bodies to make it an agenda item.

They have printed maps, put up bunting, talked to council officials about relaxing rules on tables and chairs, put artwork in empty shops and got into the final 10 of a national competition to win £15,000 in a matter of weeks.

Impressed? I am.