RESIDENTS and visitors are being asked to create art in Henley town centre.
A giant chalkboard has been erected at the former Blockbuster store in Market Place for people to doodle messages and pictures.
It is part of a window-dressing initiative developed by Henley Town Council and South Oxfordshire District Council to make the town’s empty shops more attractive during the tourist season.
Some of the first people to make their mark were three-year-olds Eden Scivyer and Sophia Burt who used the sticks of red, yellow and blue chalk provided to produce some colourful scribbles.
Sophia’s mother Kerri Hayes, 24, of Goodall Close, Henley, said the scheme could foster community spirit.
“Interactive things like this are good and you can meet and start talking to people you normally wouldn’t,” she said. “Hopefully, it will encourage people to come and have a look.”
Caroline Bowder, 68, of Northfield End, Henley, said: “Empty windows are always a bit depressing but this shows that somebody cares about it. There are a lot of artistic people around Henley and this gives them a chance to show off.”
Among the other early contributions were space rockets, flowers and cartoon characters together with messages of support for local businesses and sports teams and a poem in honour of Henley which reads: “Little English town by ancient river, how long was the land here before you came?”
Town and district councillor Elizabeth Hodgkin said: “This scheme is wonderful when we have vacant premises that look awful, especially in Market Place, which is a key part of the town.
“It’s important that people realise Henley is open for business — it’s a vibrant town and we are coming to a busy part of the year.” Residents who contribute have a chance to win prizes including tickets to the Regal Picturehouse and the River and Rowing Museum by tweeting their artwork to @SOTourism using the hashtag #HenleyChalk or emailing economic.development @southandvale.gov.uk
A second window at the shop has been decorated with a poster for the museum in Mill Meadows, encouraging families to visit this summer.
Catherine Yoxall, marketing manager at the museum, said: “It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to remind the people of Henley that the museum is just down the road.
“We have lots of fun things for families this summer and we are keen to get people involved. I think the board is a fantastic idea. It’s a good way to brighten up the town centre when it’s busy with families and tourists.”
Another empty store has been decorated with a knitted window display. The shop in Hart Street, formerly Rules of Beauty, also has a poster for Lady Sew and Sew, a fabrics warehouse in Farm Road.