Dear Reader: How cool is Harrogate + town looks a mess?

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

Friday, 19th July 2019, 4:58 pm
Road works at Station Parade in Harrogate.
Road works at Station Parade in Harrogate.

What an amazing night. What an amazing setting.

Facing a large seated audience, Harrogate’s leading historian is talking about new book The Chapel in the lavish ground floor of The Chapel itself.

Harrogate Borough Council's three-stage plan for sustainable transportLooking dapper in a pale blue jacket, Malcolm Neesam is in the company of art collector, design enthusiast and natural creator Mark Hinchcliffe.

The latter has successfully pulled off one of the most remarkable renovations this town has ever seen, turning this Grade II-listed chapel into a house/luxury boutique/art gallery/wedding venue.

Not that any of this came easily or cheaply.

I seem to remember he once described the whole process as like going “to hell and back.”

Mark’s latest trick is to transform the epic story of how he did it into a “fully illustrated book” as gorgeous and creatively-inspired as the conversion itself.

Just don’t mention The Chapel at one point starred in reality show Four in a Bed on Channel 4 like a guilty pleasure.

Taking four years and quite a bit of financial input, this is not a man to do things by halves.

The last time I’d walked into The Chapel Mark had been busy welcoming another guest; Martyn Ware of the Human League Heaven 17 fame.

The fizz flowed and the buzz grew.

For an event held in Grove Road, rather than the town centre, the book launch had attracted a lot of people.

The artworks from his personal collection displayed in every nook and cranny even seemed to be playing a part quietly, too.

Had this event taken place in Manchester, Bristol or London, it would have hailed far and wide as testimony to the creative good health of those very different cities.

I’d argue it does exactly the same for Harrogate.

I received a letter from a reader over the weekend about the state of Harrogate.

I say a letter, I mean an email.

The former Knaresborough resident had seen this newspaper’s ‘summer of discontent’ articles triggered by growing concerns over the state of the town centre at Station Parade.

Well written with a clear conclusion, this particular reader’s argument boiled down to a single thought – Harrogate is just the same everywhere else.

I’m not so sure.

This week, in particular, had felt like the town centre was a bit of a mess.

I’m sure the end result will be worth it but the sudden closure of the key town centre thoroughfare which links the bus station to the Stray at York Place didn’t help create a feel-good factor for shoppers.

It’s not just the inconvenience of it all.

It’s the impression it creates and the amount of information made available to the public in advance.

The minor chaos, temporary or not, has friends of mine muttering about how it’s all part of a plan by the authorities to justify building new relief roads.

That strikes me as utter nonsense.

Just one thought, though, let’s hope when all the dust finally settles on all the work, Harrogate is still actually there.