The Stratford Society exists to protect the historic character of our Town whilst accommodating the changing needs of residents, trades and visitors. Change is inevitable but we can choose the pace and type of change. We act as a civic society to seek a balance between the heritage we have inherited and the developmental needs of the community.
It is clear that the acceleration of change in online retail, together with the after-effects of the Covid pandemic, is going to result in a very different town centre. The era of the department stores seems to be over, with the closure of Debenhams and plans to convert the bulk of the building into a hotel for which planning permission is currently being sought. The previous BHS site is also subject to a planning application for a hotel. We can expect to see other changes of use for buildings along the historic spine and adjoining streets. It appears that many businesses are unlikely to survive the current lockdown and consequent economic recovery!
Our task in the Stratford Society, to ensure the preservation of the ‘essence’ of our town centre, will become more and more critical in the coming years. Home delivery of goods and services continues apace and most of us have had to severely restrict our visits to retail stores for many months. Of course, we survive and our habits change. We are likely to see similar changes in the use of commercial office buildings, as many companies have discovered that corporate life can continue via modern communications without having to house all employees in one or more buildings together. As I write this note, I am aware of a major town employer reviewing its need for accommodating the current six hundred employees differently.
Leisure and hospitality will become more important to us all. The road infrastructure and separation of pedestrians, cyclists and traffic has begun to change to accommodate the need for greater pedestrian space during the pandemic. This is likely to remain as a permanent requirement. Climate change will also become the driving force of much change in the coming decades. Emissions have already been recognised as a real health issue and the decline of fossil fuel use and their replacement by alternative technologies will result in major infrastructure needs. How we adapt during these changes will have a long-lasting impact on the nature of our Town and surrounding area.
Please help us to respond to these changing times by joining The Stratford Society and contributing to the shape of things to come.
Dr Kevin Bond