The Drill Hall in Denne Road has featured in many a memorable moment over the three decades of which I have lived in Horsham.
As a young teenager I marched up and down its hall with other 1015 Squadron air cadets, in my twenties and thirties I danced at a number of jive and rock and roll events, in the last decade I have enjoyed a number of beer festivals and before then attendance of what was then my own business stand at Microbiz.
Last Saturday I added one more experience to that list as I attended a hustings of the local Campaign to Protect Rural England group. Horsham has, for the first time in quite a few elections, an opportunity to watch unelected candidates, and one representative, introduce themselves and their opinions on the future issues faced by the countryside.
Whilst attendance was not exactly bursting the seams of the venue there were the usual collection of faces and vocal dissenters to be seen and heard.
That CPRE organised and delivered the opportunity in Horsham, as opposed to a location possibly further South in an area which might be more traditionally considered countryside, surprised me.
Indeed I think many of the audience’s responses were not necessarily in line with what I might have expected from those interested in CPRE issues. There is I think in this decade a touch of split personality regarding Horsham. Where we should feel defined by our countryside instead we feel constrained by urban planning. The landfill site rises to the north, the riverside walk faces a new development infringement, the views to the south are now more formal estate than farmland. Where have all the the farmers for this market town gone?
The town has been adapting to the changing nature of our national economy as has the countryside attitude towards the role of agriculture and livestock. Further we should not forget the contribution of national parks, rivers, and forests to our mental health and environmental well being. The concept and utilisation of rural areas is by its nature changing due to the economic contributions of urban areas.
The countryside of Sussex, much like the Drill Hall, will change its role and its purpose; and like the Drill Hall it will require good management and thoughtful investment to ensure those fields, rivers, and forests, remain as spaces to create memories available to everyone.