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Opinion: It Might Be Called A ‘Pop Up’ Village – But Instantaneous It Wasn’t

Published on: 23 Dec, 2016
Updated on: 30 Dec, 2016

Cllr Caroline Reeves

Cllr Caroline Reeves, Lib Dem borough councillor for Friary & St Nicolas, writes about the project to set up the Pop Up Village in Guildford town centre.

When someone proposed a “Pop Up Village” for the redevelopment site near Guildford Bus Station, off North Street, I was keen to support the initiative. I had seen how successful they are elsewhere in the world and this country.

But I had absolutely no idea how complicated the project would be!

The Guildford Pop Up Village is by Guildford Bus Station, off North Street – All photos Mandy Millyard

Friary & St Nicolas is a busy ward where we have a huge diversity of businesses, residents and public spaces so I believed the idea was sound, a productive use of a temporarily vacant space.

As is inevitable with any project in the town centre, there were details and niggles to sort out before any progress on the design and implementation could be made. And there was an astonishingly steep learning curve for all involved.

Some of the Pop Up shops

To give an idea of the breadth of the 15 borough council departments involved: the vital input came from the economic development team under director, Steve White, with critical support from environmental health, environmental control, licensing, electrical and mechanical services, asset development, economic development, town centre management, planning services, operational services including parking, recycling and waste management, landscape management, customer services, web development, finance, and ICT. The conventional silos of local authority working were abandoned and  everyone worked together!

The retail units are made from shipping containers

The race to open was complicated by negotiations over lease agreements, the police had concerns about accessibility and how we were going to make sure the site wouldn’t become a centre for antisocial behaviour. We also had to ensure that those who needed the high quality set up facilities for food preparation would be happy, with a supply of hot water, clean lavatories and disabled access. This was so much more than a market stall, the site had to be safe but accessible.

Then the weather changed from seemingly endless warm autumn to bitter cold followed by torrential rain – just at the time when tarmac should be laid and concrete mixed for the steps and ramps.

The deadline had to be moved back from the turning on of the Christmas lights, but once the Mayor was booked, and more importantly the All Star choir and the Wey Community Gospel Choir, that was it, the date was fixed.

Some say we should have delayed yet again and in truth we weren’t really ready, but we opened and work to improve has continued.

The steps are now done, the tarmac is down, and the bumper cars and carousel are there.

It has been very challenging for the food outlets who have had to bring their fresh food daily with no idea what the footfall will be and they were obviously concerned about wasting food.

Bumper cars and a carousel for younger visitors

When I visited on Sunday (Dec 18), at about 4pm there were many more people there, some were sitting out eating and drinking, the bumper cars were busy and I gather that people had been spending in the outlets.

Now that the school holidays have arrived and Christmas panic shopping has started I really hope that people will be drawn in by the balloons, the lights and the elves handing out flyers.

We need the buskers to come along, the stage to get busy and by springtime we should have a vibrant new aspect to town centre life.

This has been one way that the council has tried to support early-stage retailers looking to experiment with their product, hopefully making them longer term tenants in the town, in the future, and it’s something very different for Guildford.

Projects like this are rarely straightforward and there is usually much work behind scenes. Like being in a dodgem car it has been a bumpy ride but I hope now everyone comes along to take a look, perhaps with their children to enjoy the bumper cars or roundabout ride, or to try some of the food and drink, or just peruse the goods on offer at the various stalls.

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Responses to Opinion: It Might Be Called A ‘Pop Up’ Village – But Instantaneous It Wasn’t

  1. Dave Middleton Reply

    December 23, 2016 at 11:01 am

    I think that this little project is a great idea and puts a town centre patch of land that would otherwise have lain dormant for many years to come, to good and practical use.

    It’s a shame that this type of thinking hasn’t been applied to the vast vacant site that Burymead House once occupied at the foot of the Portsmouth Road, which has been vacant for several years now.

    Even if it was just used as a temporary car park (like the “temporary” car park on the old Farnham Road Bus Station site), it would be something more useful than it is now.

    I can’t help but think that the council should look into buying the Burymead site and building some much needed 1, 2 and 3 bedroom homes on it.

  2. Fiona Curtis Reply

    December 29, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    By definition, it is not a “village” and as it was not “pop up” perhaps some thought could be given to an appropriate name for it and any similar ventures?

  3. Mandy Millyard Reply

    December 31, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    The Pop-Up is a fantastic idea, and makes good use of the empty space.

    But, sadly, it isn’t being populated enough to give it the right atmosphere.

    I visited today, Thursday 29th December, with a friend (from outside the area). The town itself was full to bursting, but the Pop-Up Village was a ghost town.

    The main problem was that, of the containers that are occupied, only three were actually open, and it was 1pm, on a sunny day.

    It felt like an opportunity missed – what with a lot of people taking holiday during this time, and venturing to Guildford from outside the area.

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