Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Tourist information centre shut by weddings

VISITORS are unable to reach Henley’s tourist information centre inside the town hall because of the

VISITORS are unable to reach Henley’s tourist information centre inside the town hall because of the increasing number of weddings held there.

The centre shares the reception area on the ground floor of the building but councillors are now considering giving it its own entrance.

In a report to the town council’s town and community committee, town clerk Janet Wheeler said: “I would like councillors to consider whether the town hall is the best place as a one-stop shop for council information and tourist information.

“There are undoubted economies for both operations. However, the town hall is becoming more popular for weddings.

“When weddings take place, especially on Saturdays, the photographs often take place in front of the closed doors of the town hall, thus barring the way for tourists.

“We can have up to three weddings a day and this can mean the doors being closed for a considerable amount of time. That means those doors are closed to visitors waiting to use that information centre for most of the day.

“The town council is also aware of letters in the press and to our enquiries email address stating that visitors do not spend long enough in Henley as there is nothing to buy.

“In particular, visitors wish to purchase mementos of Henley and our current limited supply does not really encourage visitors to spend.”

Deputy Mayor Will Hamilton said the council should consider creating a side entrance to the town hall that could provide direct access to the tourist information centre.

Councillor Ian Reissmann said: “The entrance to the town hall isn’t particularly welcoming, although it looks very nice. The service is good but I wonder if we’re presenting it as visibly as we could.”

He also suggested having a mobile ticket office in Market Place, selling tickets for town events. Another idea was for the tourist information centre to share with the planned George Orwell museum at King’s Arm Barn, where it used to be based until six years ago.

Councillors also agreed to explore improving the working conditions in the current space.

The centre manager says the lighting in the office is poor and most days somebody goes home with a headache.

The information centre desk has very little working space for the staff as it was set up as a hotel reception-style area with high fronts and shallow desks and not to function as a working office.

It is also not compliant with the requirement for disabled access and wheelchair users struggle to see and to be seen over the desk.

Staff need space for their day to day duties, such as report writing and letter writing for which space is required.

The cash register also needs to be repositioned so staff do not need to turn their backs to the public when using it.

In 2007, South Oxfordshire District Council withdrew funding for the information centre, which was formerly known as the Henley Tourist Centre.

The town council decided to move the centre from King’s Arms Barn into the town hall and use the money from renting out the barn to fund it.

The relocation took place in 2010 and cost about £20,000, sparking claims that it was a waste of money.

In 2014 a redesign was mooted. Staff had suggested that it would be more welcoming if the counter was in the middle of the room.

At the time, then town councillor Joan Bland blasted the idea, citing the money spent on the relocation.

She said: “We spent all that money on a non-functional information centre — it is just absolutely mind-blowing that we spend all this public money to completely re-do that room. What a waste. Another £20,000 is ludicrous.”

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