OPINION: Commercial Street retailers want to be the friendliest street in town - David Simister, Harrogate and District Chamber of Commerce
For those who attended our Monday meeting, they couldn’t help but be impressed by the story of the Commercial Street retailers working together with the combined aim of making their corner of the town centre the ‘friendliest street’ in Harrogate.
The driving force behind this campaign is Sue Kramer, who with her husband, Steve, own Crown Jewellers, which earlier this year celebrated its twenty first birthday. Sue admitted the road had a reputation for being ‘grotty’, which was something she was determined to change. And with Coronavirus plunging the country into lockdown, this gave her ample opportunity to drive this vision forward, and putting her and her colleagues on the map for the right reasons.
I have heard Commercial Street being described as Harrogate’s equivalent to ‘Carnaby Street’. Whilst not 100 per cent sure about that, it is chock full of independent shops, including a fishmonger, cafés, hairdressers, a second hand bookstore and a host of food shops, including the famed Cheeseboard, and three charity shops. During her journey, Sue was supported by Harrogate Borough Council and Harrogate BID. It has its own website promoting the individual benefits. Another organisation it has been working closely with, and again whom we heard from on Monday, is Disability Action Yorkshire, which has conducted free access audits for a number of the shops, keen to find out how they can make themselves more accessible and inclusive to those with a disability, from a visual impairment through to mobility issues and hidden disabilities. Bearing in mind Christmas is just around the corner, other town shops might well want to look further into this free service! But why is access important? Well, we also heard that the ‘Purple Pound’ - the term given to the spend of disabled people is many billions of pounds, and for those businesses who, for one reason or another, and sometimes it’s simply out of their own hands, are missing out on this valuable source of income. But it’s not just shops the charity has been working with. They are working with a series of businesses in order for them to be accessible to disabled workers, people who can make a valuable contribution to any business, but may need some adaptations making in order for them to fulfil their roles.
I am speaking from personal experience when I say I will be forever grateful to the Harrogate restaurant owner who has given someone very close to me, with a hidden disability, a chance. We are constantly reading about staff shortages across many sectors, with different reasons being given for the cause, but harking back to what Disability Action Yorkshire is doing, couldn’t some of these jobs be filled by a disabled person? It is something well worth thinking about.
Access is on the agenda of our next meeting, being held on Monday, November 8 in the Cedar Court Hotel. This time it’s improving access to the town centre for those arriving by foot, by bicycle, and by public transport.
The team behind the £10.9m Harrogate Station Gateway Project will be giving a presentation to members, and also to the wider business community, about the revised plans for this contentious scheme. Just two months ago, the Chamber, Harrogate BID and Independent Harrogate canvassed their members on the main thrust of what is being proposed, namely the narrowing of Station Parade to a single carriageway, and the pedestrianisation of James Street. Based on the findings of the first round of consultation, those who responded to the survey, more than half were against either proposal. Covid meant the previous consultation was held not in person, but online, and this meeting will be an opportunity to view detailed drawings, speak to members of the project team face-to-face, and then sit through a presentation and ask questions. The Chamber has been there for 125 years to speak up for business, but in order to do so we need to hear their voices. Our November meeting will give them a golden opportunity to do just that.