‘Keep Horsham vibrant’

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I HAVE frequently been impressed by the occasional comment pieces written by editor in chief Gary Shipton who writes with commonsense on issues which affect the readership of the County Times.

But his recent editorial on the problems which may or may not face Horsham’s town centre was particularly excellent. The thought of Mary Portas being invited to correct perceived woes in our town borders on distasteful – how can a person dressing as she does even be taken that seriously?

Gary is right in suggesting that Horsham does not suffer the same High Street problems so clearly evident in other similar towns and the regeneration of East Street is a continuing success story.

It is marvellous when we get visitors to our home to have such a wide range of excellent restaurants to visit and when and if the King’s Head building reopens in some suitable guise, that portion of town will be a powerful demonstration of what can be done to revitalise a town.

He is also correct in suggesting that West Street looks tired and the use of some of the closed shops for other purposes would be more than welcome but I believe it needs a much less drastic upgrade than East Street did.

I have to declare two vested interests in the success of our town (and I am a relative newcomer to ownership having only been here 15 years). One is my distaste for coffee and my creeping ennui over the proliferation of coffee shops; my belief is that coffee shops should be the logical breathing space during shopping expeditions and an impetus to buy more from the various shops and not specifically ends in themselves.

They should make the shopping experience better, not just be there as the single reason why people visit the town. My second vested interest is the fate of Waterstone’s where my wife is one of the smiling faces offering advice and assistance in purchasing books.

She has worked at the store through its iterations as Hammick’s, Ottakar’s and then Waterstone’s before it became part of HMV. Much as I can take or leave coffee shops, I do love book shops where the opportunity to browse, select and purchase with freedom and leisure is a pleasure not to be missed for me.

The recent disposal by HMV is actually good news for Waterstone’s because the signs are that the new owners will return the company to its core strengths of bookselling and not be distracted by trying to sell other things for which they are ill equipped. Who knows, the coffee shop customers in Waterstone’s may even end up buying more books!

It is true that the internet is a pervasive medium and all traditional shopping outlets will continue to come under the strongest pressures but it can be challenged effectively and we can retain our High Streets and their shops as prized assets.

So to keep our town vibrant, I urge everybody to support the local businesses and so avoid the unfortunate demise visited in the past on some of our independent shops and if you do that, and I see clear evidence of it, I might even buy you a coffee!

IAN JAGGARD

Ghyll Crescent, Horsham