What challenges do we face as a town and how can we overcome these?
I left Beeston when I was eighteen but I was borne there and I can trace my Beeston roots back to at least 1800. I have been to Beeston many times in the past twenty years but, as an outsider, I will only address one of your questions, namely what are the challenges and how to overcome them. I do so with first-hand knowledge of the threats to my own settlement of Balsall Common – 5 miles from the outskirts of Solihull and Coventry and a massive new business development at the N.E.C., with HS2 to be built almost over the top of our rail station, less than 4 miles from a potential 3000 house development near the N.E.C. site, a 7000 space HS2 station car park and with 2000 houses scheduled to be built on green land right next to us. We are a community of 9000 people. We feel besieged.
We are fighting to retain our identity as a viable independent community and that is what you must do above all else. That is your challenge: How do you do that? You do it by ensuring that, as a matter of policy, every decision made by your local council and other locally influential bodies takes into account its potential effect on your high street, which is the focus of your community. Your high street – which still has integrity as a truly local hub with small independent businesses, pubs, cafes etc. - is the hub. Get this right and the rest will follow because people will want to be part of it.
This emphasis on policy should extend further than simply monitoring the potential effect of proposed changes that will affect your community. Where a negative effect is anticipated then fight it – help to change it; a positive effect then encourage it and make resources available to help it. This needs true community spirit that enables pressure, encouragement and, yes, money. Your community must be prepared to pay by voluntary donation and in statutory ways. If you have a proposed one-off £5/£10 per household levy within the council tax to pay for a specific expense that will soon bring out those for and against and encourage healthy debate.
People need to be elevated rather than depressed by your high street. No litter – voluntary picks if necessary; no empty shop windows; no chewing gum; no stains where people have spilt stuff (paint, oil etc.); café culture; independent small enterprise, helped by grants and practical advice; quality paint jobs; controlled graffiti (let the prospective Banksy’s have a go - you may be pleasantly surprised). Not only do you need to give people a reason to come to your town centre but also you need to provide the environment where small time, independent, enthusiastic people of commerce want to settle there in the first place.
How many Beeston residents actually use the High Road regularly and what they think of it? A survey would be a good start to seeing where improvements should be made. Plus, an inventory of every business and a survey of their views on the same subject.
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