I first visited Guildford in the 1970’s and was struck by its timeless beauty, so when my husband moved offices I had absolutely no doubt where I wanted to live.
I remember visiting the town centre with my two children and loving the fact that it was such a busy and beautiful place with students collecting for rag week, musicians performing on the street and wonderful independent shops offering unique gifts and ideas.
Christmas was especially wonderful with vibrant stalls, lights, carol singers and festive smells whetting the appetite.
Sadly, times have changed – and so has Guildford.
I often imagine tourists arriving by bus for their first glimpse of our beautiful county town. Out of one window the bus station itself, grey, sad slabs of concrete and out of the other, the remnants of the Village. No colourful hoarding painted with scenes of our wonderful town, no children on skateboards using the uneven surfaces as an interesting play area, just a dump which looks like some disaster has taken place.
If then they decide to venture past the Friary Shopping Centre to the bottom of North Street our visitors can walk past the grime of Phoenix Court with its missing paviours or maybe into White Lion Walk with a vibrant mixture of local businesses and empty shops.
Maybe our visitors will decide to take in a film at the local cinema, passing our very own seedy looking “Casino” with dilapidated attached rooms and roof garden.
It’s true, there has been a huge investment in the top end of the High Street. Sleek modern, expensive shops adorn Tunsgate but somehow lacking the character of its predecessor. Maybe it will look better at Christmas?
You may read this and think what a miserable account, things aren’t that bad and you’re probably right. However, if you have a local business, you want people to look forward to coming here, you don’t want money being spent on frivolous ventures like the Tunsgate setts. You want a warm and welcoming environment for the whole of Guildford, not just the posh bits.
It could (and should) all be so different – and with much less money than you think; just a little imagination and some enthusiastic locals – perhaps including children who could be encouraged to design what they would like to see when they get off the bus.
I hope Guildford will always be a popular place for tourists and locals but we must remember to look at our town as a whole, invest in making North Street somewhere locals want to come, and shop (and eat and drink).
We need to make the most of all its wonderful features including the river and not just focus on the High Street. We owe it to ourselves to make Guildford a town we can all be proud of and a place people will want to visit again and again. That is the vision I share with my colleagues in Guildford Labour.
Anne Rouse, Vice-Chair Membership, Guildford Labour Party