More than 100 people packed out a meeting at Ripon Spa Hotel on Thursday night, February 1, to share a raft of new ideas and be part of a pioneering vision to make our city a better place.
In a major city-wide partnership, Ripon Cathedral, Harrogate and Ripon Centres for Voluntary Service, Ripon Civic Society, Ripon Chamber of Trade and Commerce, Ripon City Council, Visit Ripon, and the team behind the Blow Your Horn Ripon Facebook forum, have set up Ripon Together with the aim of taking groundbreaking steps towards boosting the city’s economy, and delivering projects for the benefit of both residents and visitors.
Dozens of passionate residents and business owners attended the meeting, alongside numerous Ripon charities and community groups, who all took part in a series of tabletop discussions to help determine the priorities of Ripon Together over the next year, and many pledged their support by becoming members.
The discussions fell under several topics and categories, including improving the appearance of the city for visitors and residents, organising more events to boost tourism, and looking at more ways to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War, and Yorkshire Day, as Ripon takes centre stage as a host city this year. As well as sharing ideas, supporters of Ripon Together can also have the opportunity to spearhead projects and make a difference.
From the most ambitious ideas to the simpler ones that still packed a punch, the suggestions for projects at the meeting were varied and prompted a lot of conversation in the room.
One hot topic of the night was cleaning up the Market Square and having it power washed. City resident Kevin Johnson said: “I think the big thing that is a starting point is to make the Market Square look clean and tidy and used. For a lot of visitors the first place to go is possibly the Market Square.
“If the Square is nice, people will look down the other streets. If it looks dull, people are more likely to say there’s not much here, then go.”
The idea of pedestrianising Kirkgate was also talked about among some residents, who said it could help to draw in more visitors and benefit businesses along the stretch.
Kevin said: “It has several positives – it is safe, it helps businesses along there, and promotes their businesses, and you could put tables outside the cafes.
“My big thing is that the Cathedral and the Market Square are hubs, and to have a good safe walking area between the two would help people to feel safer, and they would use them more.”
Being able to hold special events and markets along Kirkgate was also highlighted by some residents as a possible benefit of pedestrianisation.
For Caroline Bentham who runs the Sun Parlour cafe at Ripon Spa Gardens, it was the conversations around organising new events through Ripon Together that excited her the most.
Caroline said: “I like the idea of working together on Christmas events and having a more coordinated approach, rather than having lots of disjointed bits and pieces all together.”
Ripon’s Chamber of Trade and Commerce has already formed two steering groups to organise late night shopping events and a new Christmas market, supported by Ripon Together.
As Ripon prepares to host a week of Yorkshire Day celebrations in August, another focus of the night was how the city should mark it.
Caroline said: “I like the idea of having Yorkshire food and produce in the Market Square for Yorkshire Day, and getting a celebrity chef in.”
On the subject of markets, Caroline said: “Having a park and ride for Christmas markets and even the normal Thursday markets could be a good idea. We’ve got to do something drastic, as the market is dying as it is.
“We also have quite a lot of dance clubs and groups in Ripon, so why not have some kind of big dance off in the Market Square?”
Other ideas put forward for developing Ripon included making the Spa Baths an arts centre, launching a go-to Ripon app for visitors, creating a Ripon radio station, and concentrating on making shop fronts look good throughout the year.
The commercial director of Newby Hall, Stuart Gill, helped to facilitate some of the workshop discussions on the night. He said: “There was a lot of feedback that we don’t as a city make enough of our Market Square, that we’re using it for parking when it should be for big events. There was a general feeling that the space should be utilised more.
“People talked about capitalising more on what the Market Square is intended for, having things like specialist markets.”
Stuart also stressed the importance of outlying attractions working in partnership with Ripon to attract more visitors to the area.
The Mayor of Ripon, Coun Pauline McHardy, said: “It’s wonderful that the city is working together like this. It was a super event - everybody was listened to and the atmosphere was very warm and supportive.”
Using Ripon Together to introduce more opportunities for young people was a popular priority among residents attending the meeting.
Ensuring that there is enough youth representation on Ripon Together was also highlighted, and supporters emphasised the importance of reaching out to schools and youth groups.
The Chair of trustees for Ripon YMCA, James Parkes, welcomed the calls to consult with young people. He said: “It shows that there is a real appetite to have something for young people.
“I think it is vital to involve young people, finding out what they want rather than adults saying what they think young people want.
“I also think there are a lot of organisations and groups out there for young people, but one of the issues is that people often don’t know what’s available.
“I think we are lacking spaces where young people can just be young people, things like drop-ins where they don’t have to do anything in particular.”
Another big talking point of the meeting was how Ripon should mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.
James welcomed the idea of involving schools and running intergenerational projects for children to learn about the war, to add to the huge success of the knitted poppies project that is already up and running.
The Ripon Together Board is in the process of reading through the suggestions for projects put forward at the public meeting, and totalling up the number of votes cast in a poll at the end of the night, which identified some common themes and priorities that could be focused on.
A report will be compiled by the Board, and shared widely with residents. Becoming a member of Ripon Together costs £1 per year, and it is a not for profit organisation.
Supporting the organisation, business and development manager for Ripon Walled Garden, Julie Spink, said: “Given a voice, people can have amazing ideas and insight which could potentially bring the community together, raise the profile of the city, and help the local economy.
“I am looking forward to further community cohesion work with the Ripon Together team, and hopefully Ripon Community Link and Ripon Walled Garden will have some involvement.”
To find out more about Ripon Together, email: email@example.com