Town Centre NAG get’s behind the Wokingham Vision campaign
November 05, 2008
In this Q&A, Mike Churcher, chairman of Wokingham town centre Action Group, talks about the town’s future.
Mike has spent around thirty years in all aspects of business development across a wide range of manufacturing and service industries.
- Could you tell us a little about the Town Centre Action Group?
We are a pressure group and different from others for two reasons.
NAGs are sponsored by the government, decide on their own agenda and have the correct links to call for action.
Secondly, this NAG is the only group focused entirely on Wokingham Town Centre and has direct contact with both officers of law and council.
No interest group, no ward and no part of Wokingham Borough Council is focused on the town centre as we are.
Top of our agenda is the regeneration of the town centre and this objective goes beyond the development of Peach Place, very important though it is.
We have an excellent team of professionals, all from a business background, but we always need more support.
So if you want to make a positive impact on shaping our future, we are waiting for you”.
- What do you think of the Wokingham Vision ?
I like the idea of writing a description of a Wokingham town centre as it could exist in 2012.
It seems a bit fanciful to believe we’re going to achieve Nirvana in three or four years, but the text has embodied all the components that makes for a great town.
It envisages great products and services, beautiful buildings and a buzz that is brought in by the community.
Funny thing, now and again the town already sparks into life and there is lot about the town that I’m proud to be a part of.
Bonfire Night is one of those sparky moments, when we all walk down from the Old Town Hall and on to Cantley Park.
It’s one of those rare moments when the families come out to play and the atmosphere is quite special.
Same goes for the Winter Carnival.
The Vision aims to capture those moments and make more of them, so why not? I’ve never been much of a volunteer in my life, which I’m a bit ashamed of, but this time, the idea of helping to restore some pride back in the town is something I am more than happy to do.
People who live in the area work hard and time is bit short for them so what’s wrong with us using the town centre for a bit of fun with our families.
I know there are some young retirees out there with plenty still under the bonnet, so to speak, so why not come give us a hand ?
We try to run the NAG like a business except that the profit is building a town that matches the vision.
I’m not saying it’s not frustrating at times, there are a lot of people around who want to criticise and even more who want to do nothing.
There are also a lot of people around who have the power to do something, but don’t live in the town, don’t use the town, don’t understand the fuss we’re making or don’t even know anything is wrong!
But I honestly believe most people want to see this town work, even if it’s just to say, ‘yes, I come from Wokingham’ and say it with some pride.
And there are many more out there who want to do something about it, but don’t know how.
Well, I’m going to say join the NAG, there’s plenty to be done, especially if you’re a bit of an organiser and a bit of Mr or Mrs Meldrew.
- So how do we turn the Vision into a plan?
Yes that’s the hard bit.
Well, we first of all we do it a step at a time and don’t expect it to happen overnight, these problems have been going on for years.
The next thing we do is not play the blame game – however justified!
Yes, sometimes the powers that be have made mistakes, in the past, the present and in the future.
Let’s get over it and get on with it.
Understand also, if it helps, that town centres all over the country are having the same problem; out of town shopping centres, the internet and frankly other towns that have been a bit more nimble on their feet, have all added to town centre woes generally.
Ok, so let’s have a look at the nitty gritty, how do we turn the vision into a plan.
Let’s start off with what makes a town like Wokingham great.
Blindingly obvious, but you need great products and services, a quality town like Wokingham with residents with a few bob can afford to go ‘high end’.
These are the types of products that are not easily found in Bracknell or Reading and certainly are not internet fodder.
Attract these premium company’s in, don’t wait for them to come to us, bang on their door, give them a great deal and place them in the premier parts of the town.
Don’t forget the utility end of the market, a lot of them are in Peach Street already and could be added to with a few more up market butchers and bakers etc.
This is where service comes in, customers can get these products anywhere, probably a bit cheaper too, but they will come in for the personal service, proper advice.
Salespeople amongst you will recognise this is as the ‘offer’, except this is not a company making the offer, it’s the whole town and that means teamwork.
Ok, so we’ve got some great services in mind, but we’ll need to showcase them.
And that means a great environment: lights, flowers, action. Clean up the pavements, replace them even, clean the buildings, decorate them, get rid of the rubbish ugly signs that clutter up the town.
If needs be, remind the council, the landlords and the retailers of their responsibilities to keep their place in order and also inspire them to add the finishing touches.
It will work, because they will realise it’s all to their advantage.
Ok so now we’ve got a town that is now showcasing some great products and services.
Something is missing though.
Oh yes, it’s the heart that’s missing.
You and me that is, our kids, grandma and granddad, the mum with her pre school kids, teenagers and the singletons that want to go out on the razz.
We are the heart, so what brings us in.
We want to enjoy ourselves and Wokingham has all the components to give us a good time.
Trouble is, the villages around the town have got used to putting up their events in the village halls, the town makes no effort to bring them in.
Events bring the community together and also potential customers for the traders.
It’s not just in the evening and weekends that we can get the town moving, we can do it during the weekdays too.
I’m writing this during the week of school half term and today my son and I took a walk into town.
There they were, families in abundance, kids on their hols and grandma and granddad walking around with them.
It’s coming up to Christmas, why didn’t the market open up and sell some toys?
How about the restaurants and pubs getting together and offering a family deal for lunch time?
It takes organisation and that brings us on to our final point.
If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
Pull the events in, showcase the great products and TELL EVERYONE!
Squeeze every bit of publicity you can out of everything.
If a pub has got some live music on, if the town’s pubs and restaurants put on a collective promotions night, tell everyone to put it in their diary.
Ok, this really is the final point.
If we start all this activity off, we have to keep it going and that means organisation.
I know the vision takes us to 2012, but why don’t we establish the social networks that last way beyond that.
We can do this by setting up zones, where the landowners, the retailers and the council can work through ideas and issues to devise initiatives that gets us to our Wokingham Vision.
Break the problem down into small lumps and we’ll eat up the problems.
Our NAG is concentrating on bringing the parties together to help devise solutions that last way into the future.
It’s not easy, there are some conundrums to deal with, but the important point is to make sure we communicate, not just to talk or to moan, but to take action.
If you think you can help the Town Centre NAG make a difference, call Mike Churcher on 07775902193 or email on firstname.lastname@example.org.