Home from my travels “Oop North” (what a shame Virgin Trains have lost that franchise. Say what you like about Richard Branson – and some of you will say a lot! – but he knows about decent transport and I still wish he’d take over Manston Airport) to catch up on happenings on the Isle.
I am pleased to see moves are afoot to chuck some cash at improving things locally even if 2.3 million quid seems quite a lot to spend tarting up the front of Margate station – surely a bit of weeding and a coat of paint costs less than that – and ten thousand to tackle a whole High Street not very much. But let us not be ungracious. Laura Sandys MP, bless ‘er, has secured, via the Town Team Partners scheme, ten grand each for Broadstairs and Ramsgate to help with their “projects for town centre revitalization”. Says Laura: “I am delighted that the Broadstairs and Ramsgate Town Teams are going to be getting the support they deserve to help boost their high streets. They have both worked immensely hard over the last six months and despite not winning their Portas Pilot bids, have already made great progress on their individual plans.”
Not winning the Mary Portas bid, as it transpires, is probably a blessing, and I am not privy to any of these “plans” but I am all for anything that helps our long-suffering shop-keepers even if I can’t see twenty thousand changing the world. What would alter things, I was told by Vasoulla Michaels of the eponymous dress shop at the bottom of Broadstairs, is an hour’s free parking. Birchington has free parking, she pointed out indignantly, when I was poking among the frocks, why can’t we? A good question and one to which I have absolutely no answer except to observe that certain councillors get all tetchy on the matter. As one who rarely buys a parking ticket, embraces the double yellow line and regards the paying of the occasional fine as an occupational hazard of this approach (TDC make more from me in the long run I’m sure), it wouldn’t make a huge difference to my retail habits but if the shop-owners say it will help, then I say let’s look at it again. Because there is no doubt that the best thing any of us can do for any of the High Streets is, of course, to use them.
I am constantly staggered by people bemoaning the passing of the corner store, the local pub, the sub post-office and the small independent shops and then blithely driving off to Westwood Cross or ordering online. I cannot pretend I don’t periodically do both – certain goods are only available at larger outlets and the internet is a boon when short of time and energy – but I do make an absolute point of using my local facilities as often as I can. It brings its own rewards. In York Street Post Office they not only smile, but put the stamps on for you; Victory News in Nelson Place will deliver your groceries if you can’t get out, and when I bought my book-party cava at the marvellous Bottleneck, I got free glass hire and the fizz was not only delivered ready-chilled but supplied on a sale or return basis. Beat that Mr Supermarket! (And no, it wasn’t any more expensive.)
Meanwhile, back at the frock shop, Vassoulla happily advised on which dress I looked less fat in, and pointed out other garments that might suit, instead of regaling a fellow assistant with what her boyfriend said about EastEnders. If every person in this town just bought one item a week… she said, waving a hand towards the other shops around. So what would make you do that? Free Parking? Ten grand? Answers on a postcard, please. Just buy it from the High Street …