I should introduce myself to those who don't know me. I'm Camilla Hamilton, I'm 35, married with two children (a boy and a girl of 4 and 2 respectively) and I live in Letchworth. Maybe at some point soon I will write something more about myself on my website camillahamilton.com (don't bother looking, there isn't anything there now!). It probably would be relevant to my take on all this, but that is enough for now.
In a nutshell, I care a lot about Letchworth. I think it has such a huge amount of potential, and it already has a lot of great assets. But its town centre is, I'm sad to say, not one of them. I suspect most of us, even those who are working tirelessly to improve it (of which there are quite a few), would probably agree.
This is a national problem, of course. The internet, out of town shopping, the explosion of consumer product choice and changing family and working lifestyles, not to mention the recession, are all working against the high street at the moment. It needs to change, probably very significantly. But a well-supported town centre will be much more ready to respond creatively to these challenges.
What difference can I make?
Since I moved to Letchworth 5 years ago I have been thinking about how the town centre could be improved. There have been a number of interventions and initiatives, many ongoing, These are all valuable, and I have other ideas I think could help too.
The thing is, my family and I visit the Town Centre every Saturday morning, almost without fail. My lightbulb moment was when I really stopped to think about how much money I actually spend there, especially as a proportion of our total discretionary spend. It's pocket money, really.
How can I expect a vibrant town centre if I don't make more effort to spend my money there now? Because without this inflow of cash from customers, retailers have nothing to use to invest in new and better stock, new signs, new staff or anything which makes for a better shopping experience for us. And established retailers will not come without increased footfall or significant financial sweeteners from landlords.
But all of us need to buy things. If we choose to buy them in Letchworth rather than elsewhere, we are investing in our town rather than letting it falter. Preventing the flows of cash out of our local area which lead to our quiet streets, empty shops and ultimately the threaten community "buzz" which is, still, is a big part of Letchworth.
So the Christmas list is a small start. One Christmas, one person. I am excited about where this might lead. Plus I've seen some great present ideas already. But that is all for another post....
Meanwhile, for more on the theory I've mentioned, take a look at http://www.pluggingtheleaks.org/ and the little animation above.