New group to improve Thatcham town centre after Covid-19 recovery set up
IDEAS to freshen up Thatcham town centre in a recovering post-pandemic world have been discussed.
Start-up business space, community art, an app and sport and cultural events were all suggested following feedback from businesses.
Town Centre Working Party chairman Owen Jeffery (Lib Dem, Thatcham Central) said the group would look at "taking back control of the civic and commercial hub of the town centre".
He said this would enable businesses and the council to have a say when the district council or developers "thought they had come up with clever ideas" for what was best for area.
West Berkshire Council has invited the town council to be a delivery partner for the Government's Welcome Back Fund, aimed to support the safe return to high streets and build back better from the pandemic.
Thatcham's share is to be confirmed but will be a split of £140,000 allocated to the district council, and, as a partner, the town council could decide how it is spent.
Mr Jeffery said that the town council should look to take a share as a partner but the full implications needed to be understood.
Thatcham's unique selling points were discussed between businesses, the police and the town council in January as a baseline for improvements.
A "strong offer of Chinese restaurants", and a "large number of independent and diverse shops that serve neighbouring rural communities" came out as highlights.
Quick and medium-term wins included decorating empty shop fronts, with local artists and Kennet School approached to create street bollards for an art trail.
Businesses said that free parking was beneficial and that screens in the Broadway to try and piggyback on to national events, such as Wimbledon, would boost footfall, as well as refurbishing the "tired" Broadway green.
Comments that the High Street was often overlooked were also made, with some asking whether it could be closed off for special occasions.
Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North East) said there were some quick wins but the committee needed to identify its purpose and work in a holistic way.
He said a sense of place was needed and "that only comes with activity".
He said: "I like the idea of linking in with national events, like sporting events, but also what the Corn Exchange does in Newbury because the town centre is absolutely rammed. Arts and culture is a real pull in too."
Mark Lillycrop (Lib De, Thatcham West) agreed, saying: "What are we really aiming for, something vibrant and appealing to younger people in the town or the more conventional town centre?
"I think these kinds of things will form a lot of the discussions being made."
West Berkshire Council has also funded its own £140,000 welcome back business grant for independent small and medium businesses and charities in the district.
The town council is not eligible to apply but councillors said they would share the information with groups in the town.