Sunday, 26 September 2021

Craft festival to increase town’s all-year appeal

A CRAFT festival will be held in Henley next year as part of plans to make the town a year-round

A CRAFT festival will be held in Henley next year as part of plans to make the town a year-round destination for tourists.

Town centre manager Peter McConnell plans to stage events at a number of venues over a weekend in March.

A fair will be held at the River and Rowing Museum, a Love Local market at the town hall and craft, art and design workshops at Lady Sew and Sew in Farm Road.

A number of other venues, including pubs, are also interested in hosting events.

Mr McConnell said: “There is a huge market in arts and crafts and the aim of the festival is to bring people into the town at a time of year when they might not normally come. It will start small and then grow.”

The festival is one of a number of initiatives being pursued by Mr McConnell, a marketing expert, whose part-time role is to increase footfall in Henley and boost trade.

He hopes to secure an £18,000 grant from South Oxfordshire District Council’s smaller towns improvement fund for infrastructure.

The money could be used for planters, benches or bike racks as well as improving signage in Reading Road and Friday Street. He is trying to work with landlords to get new businesses into empty shops and hopes to launch a new project in the next two months to help retailers with training their staff.

Mr McConnell is also working with First Great Western to promote use of the car park at Henley station in the hope of easing the pressure on the car parks in the town centre.

“It costs £4.50 a day or £1 for three hours,” he said. “There are more than 100 empty spaces in that car park over the week and it is cheaper pro rata than both the Greys Road and King’s Road car parks.

“If people would walk that little bit further then there would never be a problem with parking. If you are heading into town why don’t you park somewhere you are almost guaranteed a place?”

Mr McConnell, who has been in post for a year, is also trying to have Henley included in Tourism South East’s marketing programmes and wants to encourage more coach visitors.

“Tourism is important to Henley,” he said. “It is the tourists that ensure we have a large number of independent shops. It is the summer revenue that makes the profit, not the everyday shoppers.”

He is pleased with the progress of his shopfront improvement scheme where businesses can apply for grants which are match- funded jointly by the town and district councils.

Mr McConnell said: “We launched in April and it takes a bit of time for people to apply but I have half a dozen interested. I am sure that will be a success. It is about creating and maintaining an environment that make shoppers and visitors want to come back.

“Historically, nobody from the town hall has really engaged with businesses within the town apart from for specific projects like the Christmas trees and Henley in Bloom.

“Part of my role is to change that and engage with businesses on a day-to-day basis and be a public figure to show that we mean well.”

One of his other ideas, a loyalty card scheme, seems unlikely to come to fruition.

Mr McConnell said: “Having talked to other town centre managers, I am beginning to think it needs to be part of something bigger. I found that a lot of towns find it difficult to maintain past the first year — but we haven’t closed the door on it yet.”

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