Craft space at Brightwells

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Craft space at Brightwells, What do you think ?

As you will remember we challenged the development, campaigned and raised tens of thousands of pounds, went to the High Court but lost because the judge said that the appellants, Councillors and long-term residents of Farnham didn’t have ‘standing’. The executive and planning committee still dislike the development intensely but want it to succeed for the good of Farnham.

Residents take the Initiative

So, what would succeed ? The bricks and mortar retail sector is crashing. The shopping mall owner Intu going into administration is another example. Farnham has to take the initiative. At the moment Surrey and Crest don’t appear to be doing so, although they should be. They should be very worried, but hey, it’s not their money, it’s ours that is at risk.

During the course of the last five weeks there have been several letters to the Editor of the Herald suggesting uses for the Brightwells retail space – one arguably surreal, nevertheless portraying possible scenarios.

I have been talking to a local lecturer in retailing and to other local people about the possibilities. Here are some of the thoughts that resulted.

World Craft City

We must take full advantage of any opportunities that arise from our World Craft City status, newly awarded by the World Craft Council. A single shopping unit (or adjoining units combined) could be used to form a craft orientated space to display and sell locally made art of all forms. West Kilbride, Craft Town Scotland, have their Barony Centre. We could do the same within Brightwells.

Alternatives are a much needed space for community use or even a privately operated business hub or two. The UCA and the New Ashgate Gallery could be encouraged to further coordinate with the town and set up pop up demonstration and sales spaces, similar to that in South Street, Christmas 2018. These could also promote short courses in craft skills which there appears to be an opportunity for.

Space could be used to explore and promote shared talent and experiences, overlapping with the Maltings’ programme. The New Ashgate Galley could consider creating something on the west side of town that complements what they have in Lower Church Lane.

Commercially

Thinking commercially, space could be used for creating experiences coupled with sales opportunities. For example an ironmongery store with tradesmen providing sessions demonstrating basic DIY skills, training in sustainable living, upcycling and selling sustainable products, or, as a council officer suggested, bicycle repairs and maintenance classes also selling bicycle parts. There could be opportunities for Mother and Baby now that Mothercare are no more: classes, sales of premium products.

Then, how about combining adjacent spaces to form a membership based facility? A good model is offered by the Soho House group, who have sites in London and elsewhere.

Companies will be operating in new ways now that working from home has been seen as a way forward. A facility in Brightwells could offer membership in tiered levels, providing meeting spaces, reducing the need for companies to rent offices of their own. Spaces of different sizes could be offered, with basic but good quality catering, maybe open to non-members. This would create a hub for networking, effectively a new business platform.

Want to be there

The ethos of the development must make residents and visitors want to be there, to experience and to enjoy. The atmosphere of each unit should be warm and welcoming, not sterile.

Where spaces are used in multiple occupation, the occupants must be required to follow guidance on presentation both inside and outside the units. Everything must be ‘quality’ and reflect ‘excellence’. Something that simply ‘will do’ will not be acceptable.

What do you think ? If Crest or Surrey won’t engage with us residents, we will have to take it to them. Please let us know.