Francis Maude: Success through creative events

Horsham MP Francis Maude
Horsham MP Francis Maude

This week the UK will see the busiest few days of the shopping calendar, if past years are anything to go by.

Saturday was the last payday before Christmas so it’s traditional for people to buy their presents soon afterwards then budget carefully for the rest of their normal outgoings in December.

I thought it might be a good moment to talk about shopping here in Horsham and how the town is competing well against the rise of Internet buying, large out-out-town malls and mail order.

A few facts and figures for you: of Horsham’s 350 or so retail frontages more than half are independent businesses, so we are managing to avoid the Anytown feel of the cloned high street.

This is not to say that we don’t need the big brand names which attract footfall, but that the blend has to be carefully managed.

Horsham has less than half the national average of empty units (6 per cent instead of 14 per cent) and continues to attract exciting new retail development: John Lewis and a new Waitrose are planned for 2015 for instance, and there is plenty more in the pipeline.

This does not happen by accident, and credit is due to local businesses and the council who drive investment in Horsham’s future.

The physical environment is of course hugely important in attracting visitors and new business, the recent facelift of West Street and the development of East Street into the town’s restaurant zone being good cases in point. The ancient Town Hall being given a new lease of life as Bill’s has been a great draw for Horsham too.

But it’s not all about the buildings and public spaces, great though they are. Success also depends on having creative ideas about how to use the communal space, and that’s where the initiatives of the various markets and events come in. The Piazza Italia is now the largest Easter event in the south of England and a new council contract in 2011 has enabled Horsham’s regular market to expand to be the largest south of London.

As other events become established as calendar favourites, new ones join in, such as the recent giraffe trail which was such fun and so successful. We have carols and fireworks in the Forum to look forward to, the Dressed for Success campaign is in full swing and the programme for 2014 to be announced very shortly will have some 20 major events sponsored by the council and partners.

I am always proud to hear that Horsham has been voted or judged yet again to be one of the nicest places to live in the UK, and will very much enjoy being in the town centre again on Friday to do my own bit for Christmas commerce.

This is a town in good heart, and its heart is in the right place.