Has West Norwood got it right?

There have been some really good contributions on this blog and on the Bearwood Facebook Page following Richard Marshall’s initiative to put in a bid for what is being called the Mary Portas High Street money. We need them to keep rolling in, and the next meeting is tomorrow (Monday) at 6pm at Azzari Too… and all interested parties are welcome.

As someone who will struggle to get there tomorrow because of another meeting, I’ll throw this contribution into the pot… The West Norwood Feast

If you can spend 15 minutes, just cruise around their site and look at what they have got going. I think they have got it spot on, and they are doing it already, without the ‘Portas’ money. And what’s more, I think we could do it too.

As many people have said, our strength here in Bearwood could be our green spaces and our creative community. The issue isn’t so much about parking (has anyone tried to find a quick and convenient parking spot at Merry Hell) or pedestrianisation, but about attracting people to Bearwood based on our selling points. Try to imagine our Bearwood Feast.

In the Shakespeare Garden and the park entrance we have a ready-made gardeners corner… Webbs, Andrews Plants, the new horticultural centre, and the Lightwoods Friends Garden Group … I can see them selling plants and seeds, giving advice, recruiting gardening volunteers for Bearwood in Bloom.

Around the House frontage we could have a food market, with local Bearwood foodies selling, displaying and sampling their foods. The Promoters could give us music from the bandstand, the Crafty Muthas and their crafty allies could have an artisan market. For our Retro Market the charity shops could display their clothes and second hand books, and people could brush down those old LP’s from their attic to sell in the Retro Marketplace…. I’m sure people can think of lots more.

In time we could turn it into a Bearwood trail, with things taking place in the St Mary’s Grounds, and maybe on the Calthorpe Haven some children’s projects.

We can build on the strengths of the existing Crafty Muthas/Bearwood on Ice/Bearwood Shuffle/Picnic in the Park organisations to turn Bearwood into a more vibrant place, that not only attracts people from around about, but gets the 10-15,000 Bearwood people down into the town.

The “There’s nothing in Bearwood” pessimism needs to be turned around, and instead try to look at the good things we have got, and build on them.

Why… the Bearwood Feast could be a co-operative, and future proceeds put towards letting a shop unit where we can start harnessing and featuring Bearwood’s creative strengths… and gathering more revenue to develop projects. We don’t have to wait for someone to give us a lease, we can go out and get one!

As a councillor, I know we will be up for it, and from the great feedback from the initial ‘Portas’ meeting, it seems like a lot of others are too. Richard has started the ball rolling, we need to pick it up and run with it!

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15 Responses to Has West Norwood got it right?

  1. Jennie says:

    Love this post bob, thanks. Have just posted my longest ever Facebook post on the Bearwood page along a similar sort of line. Sorry everyone! But I get the feeling I’m not the only one getting excited about all of this.

    • Deborah says:

      Bob, I absolutely love your Norwood Feast link – we could make that work so well in Bearwood! Let’s do it, Portas or no!

      Richard, althought technically Harborne may have more empty shops, that’s not the impression you get if you shop there! A more pertinent question would be, how well are the shops that *are* open in Harborne doing? I’d put money on their takings being higher than those of our local traders.

      A final thought on Harborne: I don’t think we should try to replicate Harborne here – that happened with the last property boom and look where that got us! I know people who shop in Bearwood because many of the shops offer good value for money. We need to build on that reputation as well – after all, there must be people who would not dream of shopping in Harborne because it is perceived as expensive. We need to make our own niche, not be a copycat Harborne and like Bob I think our green spaces make all the difference for this.

      Oh, and there is something ytou can’t buy in Bearwood as well as fresh fish, and that’s decent cheese!

  2. richard~chair of friends of lightwoods/ Bearwood Traders Association says:

    Totally agree Bob~ loads of good things and ideas have already come out of the meeting and social media this past wk but the main thing I take from it all is that we dont SELL what we have right on our doorstep.

    To my mind there is little you CAN NOT buy in Bearwood other than fresh fish so our biggest problem is going to be changing perceptions of the town and only then will we make it a viable shopping experience and start attracting businesses in to take vacant shops

    By the way~ we have well over 300 businesses with at last count 8% vacancy rate ~ much better than our Cafe cultured neighbour Harborne that many of you seem keen on who have over 15% with less businesses in total. Or West Brom and Dudley both with nearly 30% so although we all agree something needs doing I pretty much think its not a knock down and start again job more of enhancing what we have and building on it to attract more businesses into the town. And if we havent got any parking in Bearwood can someone please explain to me how it is thousands of cars park here on a daily basis…….?

  3. Robin Hanny says:

    All good stuff Bob. I agree that parking is minor irritation but, in time, perhaps we could consider a mini park and ride scheme for market days. I know that Bearwood is well served by bus routes and I use them myself, but not everyone is willing to endure the constant noise from ‘phones, i-players and similar, which form the major blight on buses.

    Something else to throw into the ring concerns baking. I enjoy making bread for my own use and I’m sure that others do the same, but what if we could get a sort of baking club going, making bread to sell on certain days? Proper bread tastes so much better and lasts much longer than the stuff that passes for supermarket bread. Also, I’m sure I’m not the only one in Bearwood that makes pickles and chutneys. Both these things sit well in the craft arena.

  4. Kate Slade says:

    Richard, I totally agree with you that we should be promoting what we’ve got and using the local shops. Places like TC Hayes provide a great service. The problem is that they are more expensive and that can be a problem when money is tight. However, the more we can encourage people to shop locally the more the shop keepers will respond to the demands and provide a wider range of products. Let’s try and get on an upward spiral rather than a negative downward one.

  5. Sarah says:

    Richard, I agree that selling what we have has value (as a starting point), but I have to disagree with you about everything but fresh fish being available in Bearwood.

    People commenting on the previous blog post listed various deficits that drive them to shop in Harborne instead, and these related to the availability of certain products and types of shops as well as the shopping environment. That is our experience and we are not sharing it out of spite or snobbishness but out of a desire to improve this area.

    As per my comment on that other post, there certainly are things I can’t get in Bearwood, but in addition to looking at the types of things that are available, we can’t ignore the issue of quality. Just because something’s available doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good or good enough, depending on what different customer demographics are looking for. Here are some selling points that are more applicable/easy-to-find throughout Harborne than Bearwood:

    – fresh
    – local
    – organic
    – free-range
    – high-quality
    – niche
    – artisan (as opposed to mass-produced)
    – late-opening

    I am not at all saying that everything has to be expensive and/or specialist. Of course that wouldn’t work nor would it be desirable. I’m just saying that we need a better mix than we have now.

    As far as attracting new shops, as per my other comment, too often when a new small business opens here, it’s not always quite ready for prime time (in my opinion). Could we have some kind of Bearwood business mentorship programme for new traders or those thinking of opening a new shop here? Successful traders could give them some guidance on market analysis, branding, marketing and creating an attractive shopfront and interior. This could both increase the quality of local businesses and the chance of trading success for new entrepreneurs.

    • richard~chair of friends of lightwoods/ Bearwood Traders Association says:

      Sarah~ I agree with you ~ I am merely stating a fact when saying. …..to my mind there is little you can not buy in Bearwood except fresh fish…..I accept not everything is rosey in the garden if it was we probably wouldnt be having this discussion but conversely I bet the chair of Harborne Traders (who does it as a paid job by the way ) wishes he had such a low vacancy rate as Bearwood

      • Sarah says:

        Sorry if I’ve misinterpreted the tone of your post, Richard – easy to do on the internet, unfortunately!

  6. Sarah says:

    PS – I do think a ‘Bearwood Feast’ would be great for the area.

  7. Mark and Louise says:

    Reading through the comments it’s clear there’s a fair number of people choosing to go to Harborne who would prefer to use Bearwood more consistently if it offered the right things. The two main issues people have highlighted seem to be:

    a) the quality of goods that are available (Sarah’s list is excellent on this)
    b) that “going to Bearwood” is basically a transactional shopping experience because there aren’t enough other things (quality cafes, family-friendly facilities, links to green space, Bearwood Feast…) to make it the trip out that would generate wider business

    I get the sense that rather than this being a negative, it actually presents a huge opportunity – the market is there ready to be tapped into and there are lots of people keen to see it happen! Maybe it would be useful to quantify the potential through some general market research to tempt traders?

  8. mary says:

    I have been making a real effort of late to shop only in Bearwood. It is difficult at times when shopping for ingriedients. It is not a comfortable area to shop in and it is not shopper friendly.
    The High Street is for a quick remedy, a short fix, not a proper shopping experience.
    Standard of fresh veg and salad in any of the shops in the high street disappointing, and lacks variety.

    Bread shops are always well stocked. Variety of butchers is good, but the variety of shops is not.

    I have been surprised at the lack of quality and variety. Sadly, we do not have a Waitrose. It is not as expensive to shop at as some items to be found in both Tesco and the co-op for instance, and the quality is fantastic. Staff in Waitrose are just wonderful.

    The farmers market was not as I expected it to be. Situated by tiolets!!!! The bakers breads had more e-numbers and preservatives on the printed lables than a supermarket would dare admit to, and it had a very short shelf life. A pity, three stalls do not make a farmers market. Not worth the walk.

    4 betting shops, a bingo shop. pawn shops. Slighted weighted!!!

    Bearwood high street does not offer family facilties. Toilets in supermarkets, free to use, with childrens facilities… none. Toilets in Lightwoods park that are open and kept to a clean high standard are needed, these would require attendents, the council would have to pay for them.

    Flower troughs which frankly leave a lot to be desired. If they are not going to be bountiful then please dont bother, they are embarrassing! I do find it difficult to understand why a shop would promote their business with a flower trough that is surrounded with litter and unkept.

    I really hate to sound so negative, but I have memories of Bearwood with a of variety of shops and a decent supermarket and a post office and …etc…..The High Street is not an inviting area, that covers a full shopping agenda. Neither is Harborne, but Bearwood is PLAYING at being a high street.

    Argos is not a shop it is a warehouse. Tesco in Bearwood is a convienance store, not a supermarket. Aldis and co-op are the same only one step higher on the convienance ladder, and not a pleasure to shop in.

    Mary Beswick

  9. Bob says:

    Mary, can I just make a point about the flower troughs. Firstly, I don’t think they were embarrassing at all. In my opinion they bought a welcome touch of life and colour to the shopping centre. The containers themselves were obtained free from a neighbouring area, the flowers were watered and maintained by volunteers, and whilst I accept that aesthetically they could have looked better, the quotes for boxing them in were prohibitive for the small amount of funding the traders raised for what was, after all, just an initial trial. We had one or two adverse comments about them, but overwhelmingly the response from people was enthusiastic, and if we can raise some more funds to get them boxed in I think in the medium term it could really brighten up the shopping area.

    If you wish I could send your details to the volunteers, because that is what they are, volunteers, who started it off last year to suggest that you may like to adopt one of the containers and accept responsibility for looking after and maintaining it. I know any offers would be gratefully accepted.

    Thanks for your comments anyway.

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