The cavernous former Debenhams store was an unusual – but highly appropriate – venue for our meeting about the way forward for Newbury and other town centres.

The many reminders of better times for retailers; the racks, the counters, the checkouts, illustrated the very reason we were there.

And a walk around Newbury with Parkway Centre manager Andrew Marmot showed further areas around town crying out for improvement, not least the empty units in the Kennet Centre. But there was also a definite feeling among some delegates that the town’s market was not of sufficient quality.

There was also talk at the meeting of pop-ups to keep empty units busy. These pop-ups seem to pop up in a great many towns so if there is a supply of small operators who cannot afford high rents for a long period along with a very large three-story unit lying empty, is there a solution whereby they come together?

Neil Hockin explained that the Debenhams store was made for Debenhams and its high ceilings and layout is not easily repurposed for a radically different use.

So, our unscientific suggestion would be that an indoor market of numerous, semi-permanent, independent retailers, along with one of two coffee shops and cafes, might attract a groundswell of new customers.

It would mean independent operators need not be at the mercy of the weather as in a traditional market, the rental income would be diversified and it would give people a reason to come into Newbury.

The meeting heard a number of references to how local authorities should help town centres recover. West Berkshire Council, perhaps with Government grants, could help numerous small operators, perhaps currently operating online, to locate there.


And on a personal note…

Going slightly off our normal topic, our knowledge of Oxfordshire has increased beyond the property world.

The many hours we spent unable to go to the pub during various lockdowns, brought about a new hobby for me as editor of the Thames Tap. I spent the time visiting the graves of famous people and every one that I found was in Oxfordshire.

We know the county has numerous connections with the famous but those whose final resting places are there include wartime prime ministers Churchill and Asquith and writers including CS Lewis, George Orwell, JRR Tolkien, Agatha Christie, Kenneth Grahame and Jerome K Jerome. Entertainers include Robin Gibb, Dusty Springfield and Ronnie Barker among a total of more than two dozen famous people.

I’ve put them all together in an e-book which UK Property Forums has given me an opportunity to plug so please feel free to have a look. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.


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