This weekend sees the start of the seventh Imagine Watford festival, consisting of free outdoor dance and theatre performances by an impressive array of British and international artistes and groups.
The festiva is part of a long-term vision of Mayor Dorothy Thornhill and Liberal Democrat councillors to use arts and culture to promote the regeneration of Watford town centre and make it a more enjoyable place to visit.
This has centred on an area of the High Street that had become primarily for the evening economy (a euphemism for bars and nightclubs). While successful enough of itself, the area had gained an unwanted reputation for late-night anti-social behaviour, while struggling to find a daytime role.
That is why Dorothy promoted the idea of a family-friendly town centre – as somewhere not just for shopping at one end and clubbing at the other, but as a place for cultural and social activity. We carried out a major environmental improvement scheme, which included creating a space where arts and community events can take place. As television retail guru Mary Portas, who grew up in Watford, commented at an event to mark the completion of the scheme:
High streets aren’t just about shopping, they’re about encouraging us to engage in where we live. We can never underestimate what the high street means to us.
Alongside that, we launched our Big Events programme of which Imagine Watford is part. It includes an urban beach and outdoor film screenings during the summer holidays, ice skating over the Christmas period. Other events, including a variety of music performances, are held at nearby Cassiobury Park, itself subject of a major lottery-funded restoration scheme, These events are enjoyed by thousands of local people, helping to create a sense of pride and wellbeing as well as offering people access new cultural experiences, and providing a chance for people from Watford’s diverse communities to come together.
It is always great to see people of all ages to watch world-class street theatre in Watford town centre. But there is a wider purpose to all this in creating a greater sense of wellbeing and pride in the town, promoting community cohesion, and improving the local economy.
It complements other steps we have taken to keep our town successful. By working with partner organisations, Watford’s Liberal Democrat administration has been instrumental in establishing a Business Improvement District in the town centre, which enhanced the town centre’s appearance through activities from extra street cleaning to floral displays. Watford has also repeatedly achieved the national ‘Purple Flag’ status for a well-managed evening economy.
In these straightened times for local government, it is tempting to cut back on activities that are not statutory services. But councils do have a role also in promoting economic health, fostering a sense of community and making sure that the places we represent are ones that people want to live and work in and visit. Watford’s Liberal Democrat administration shows how this can be done.
Do come and see events at the Imagine Watford Festival which runs from 24–25 June and 30 June–2 July. Details are available here. Check out especially next Friday evening’s spectacular circus show by French company Deus ex Machina.
* Cllr Iain Sharpe is Cabinet member for Regeneration and Development at Watford Borough Council
A lot can change in a year.
On 23rd June 2016, I was left heartbroken after a tough and exhausting referendum campaign saw a victory for an insular nationalist vision of Britain.
The vote to Leave has divided our country in a way even ‘Project Fear’ could never have imagined.
After the referendum, we were told that the populist right was on an unstoppable rise. Geert Wilders, Netherland’s answer to Donald Trump, would storm to victory in the Dutch general election; Marine Le Pen would triumph over the established political consensus in the French Presidential election; and the Liberal Democrats’ fight to keep Britain in Europe was laughed off.
But a lot can change in a year.
Our ALDE sister Party, VVD, secured victory in the Netherlands with a lead of over 8 points. Voters in France chose a pro-European liberal vision of hope as Emmanuel Macron overwhelmingly won the Presidency and obtained an absolute majority in the French Parliament.
And in the UK, it’s still all to fight for. Theresa May called a general election to ask the electorate to force through her destructive Brexit and the public refused to give her the mandate.
The latest polling on Brexit shows big movement – 53 per cent of people now back the Lib Dem position for a final say on the Brexit deal.
Opposition to hard Brexit is increasing as the lies of the Leave campaign unravel and the reality of Brexit begins to bite.
This opposition to Brexit is being led by the Liberal Democrats and there is still all to fight for.
Together, we must fight to keep Britain in the Single Market and Customs Union. We must fight to give European citizens the right to stay. We must fight to protect our science, research and education programmes, such as ERASMUS, and we absolutely must remain a full member of the Euratom Treaty.
And when all the deal making has been done, before the signatures go on the paper, we must give the people the final say over the deal in another referendum vote.
A lot can change in a year. Let’s make sure it’s for the better
* Catherine Bearder is the Liberal Democrat MEP for the South East