An inclusive, safe, well-connected high street offering an eclectic mix of high-quality shops and outlets – that is the long-term vision for Ealing Town Centre.
Over one hundred delegates gathered at International House earlier this month for the first Ealing Town Centre Conference – organised by Ealing in London.
Guests were welcomed to the event by Leader of Ealing Council Julian Bell, while they networked over breakfast and coffee laid on by local businesses.
Pat Brown, Director of Central, chaired the morning conference and offered her expertise in an engaging opening address, on how high streets and town centres are changing in the modern age. With the well-documented retail struggles all over the news, she pointed to the importance of adaptability, with more residential units being developed in town centres and creative businesses and retailers delivering different ‘Instagram-able’ attractions.
With Crossrail soon to be delivered in the borough, the first panel session of the morning was titled ‘Creating the Connections’ and focussed on transport and ease of access. The panel was made up of Tony Clements, Executive Director, Regeneration & Housing, Ealing Council; Amanda Raven, Head of London & South East, Retail, British Land; Edwin Harrison, Owner, Artisan and Artisan Coffee School; Chris Fenner, Director of Property, University of West London; Nick Lee, Development Director, CEG and Russell Roberts, Transport Planning, Ealing Council.
Roberts said it was important to create an appealing destination with high-quality streetscape.
“We want to move to a people-focussed town centre, promoting low pollution ways of moving,” he said. Clements agreed, saying: “this is an important part of the inclusive growth agenda, it’s also about improving public health with walking and cycling.”
For Harrison, it was about improving the welcome that people receive in Ealing, such as at Springbridge Car Park, saying: “As a group, it is important we make a good first impression for people coming into Ealing.”
Lee explained that the way people were choosing office space has changed over the last three years more than ever, and said CEG now see themselves as a host. He also drew attention to the low emission buses for the Uxbridge Road, along with electric vehicle charge stations, which is hoped to be completed by next spring.
Raven pointed to Dickens Yard as an example of what can be achieved, showing that good-quality investment can enliven an area.
Fenner said the university were keen to work with the community. He particularly liked Ealing’s “sense of independence” and recalled the council’s investment in the park, saying it was great that people could go out to the park on their lunch break to add some diversity to their day.
After coffee, Matthew Booth, from Populate Consulting, delivered a presentation on the night-time economy. Booth pointed out how alcohol was now far less of a driver and people were looking for a diverse cultural offer to keep them entertained of an evening.
The conversation was continued in the second panel session for the morning, ‘Creating a Lively, Creative & Inviting Ealing Town Centre’ featuring: Piers Clanford, Managing Director at St George; June Martin, Business Owner/Director, Hanwell Hootie Music Festival C.I.C; Kate McKenzie, Director, KMC Squared; Helen Statham, Safer Communities & Licensing Team – Ealing Council; Lucy Taylor, Director Regeneration and Planning, Ealing Council; Alex Wrethman, CEO/Owner, Charlotte’s Group.
Taylor said the Council were having more and more conversations with developers who were looking to create attractive, interesting spaces like Dickens Yard. “There are lots of people in the community asking for more community centres, however we do not just want generic spaces,” she said. “We are considering our role as an enabler, thus we have talked about our planning policy and how we can provide more flexibility in a proactive way.”
The discussion then turned to Ealing’s unique selling point, with Wrethman noting one issue that held Ealing back was that he had not seen a unified brand for the town.
To wrap up the debate all participants were asked for one key thing Ealing should focus on to drive the town centre forward.
Clanford said that Ealing’s story had not yet really been told yet and felt it should focus on the town’s rich history in film. Statham said she would like to see a ‘safe’ town centre – where residents felt comfortable going of an evening.
Mckenzie said Ealing should be better known for its food and drink offerings and pointed to the success of the Cheese Festival, while Martin believed the focus should be to market the town as a cultural hub.
Wrentham noted that while places like Colombia Flower Market were great for Instagram shots that did not necessarily translate into sales, so it was important to attract people to Ealing who had money and that the focus should be on the arts.