Bristol UWE students living in Newport don’t realise how lucky they are

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Ok, so it isn’t Bistol, but Newport has shaken off its old image and has finally become the vibrant city it always wanted to be

There was a time when the only reason people living in Bristol went to Newport was to change trains for Cardiff or to pay an urgent visit to the passport office. Or so the rather cruel joke goes.

But a lot has changed in the small South Wales city in recent years and the 127 UWE students who now find themselves holed up in Newport digs and commuting to Bristol for their studies may learn to love the place a lot quicker than they first thought.

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For those of us whose student days are remembered in sepia tones, Newport still has a place in our hearts, especially if live music was your thing.

In the late 1980s, the Newport Centre used to attract bigger and better bands than Bristol venues. I remember seeing a memorable show from R.E.M. and I was also there when The Smiths played, although that show was stopped after half an hour when Morrissey was dragged into the crowd, injured and ended up in Royal Gwent Hospital.

The most legendary gig in Newport was when iconic Kurt Cobain brought Nirvana to a tiny sweatbox of a club called TJ’s on October 12, 1991 - 31 years ago next week. Some grizzled old Newport music fans are still talking about that night and those who claim to have been there far outweigh the actual number of fans squeezed into the much missed TJ’s.

Fast forward to today and it’s all change. The tired and dated Newport Centre didn’t reopen after the pandemic and is being demolished and replaced with a seven-storey building with shops, offices, restaurants and a hotel.

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An aerial view of Newport, which is undergoing huge changesAn aerial view of Newport, which is undergoing huge changes
An aerial view of Newport, which is undergoing huge changes

The old Victorian market has been revamped and is now a trendy hub with a range of street food operators, including stalls from familiar Bristol names like Flour & Ash and Seven Lucky Gods, as well as enticing homegrown start-up businesses such as Dirty Gnocchi, Burger Boyz and Meat and Greek.

Never a city that could really claim to have a destination restaurant, now you’ll find Gem 42, which recently scooped the AA Restaurant of the Year award thanks to tasting menus of innovative, locally sourced ‘farm to table’ dishes.

And that’s not all. Next month, Newport gets a brand new club called Vibez with a state-of-the-art sound system and lighting rig that will illuminate the club in whichever colour the DJs want. Apparently, when Wales are playing at home, it will be as red as the dragon on the national flag.

Ruins of Newport Castle on the west bank of the River UskRuins of Newport Castle on the west bank of the River Usk
Ruins of Newport Castle on the west bank of the River Usk

Elsewhere, Newport night owls can enjoy live music at Le Pub or a range of big name live events at The Neon in the rehabilitated former Odeon cinema.

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These are exciting times for Newport, which has shaken off its old image to finally become the vibrant city it always wanted to be.

OK, it’s a lot smaller than Bristol, and the choice may not be so varied, but those students residing across the channel may soon have more to worry about than the tiring and expensive daily commute to lectures at UWE.

They may suddenly find their UWE friends asking if there’s a spare sofa at their digs after a great night out. Newport taking trade away from the bright lights of Bristol. Who’d a thought it?

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