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Trekking the Streets With an Experience Guildford Blue Cap

Published on: 6 May, 2013
Updated on: 7 May, 2013

By Maria Rayner

I stoop to pick up a cigarette packet, the man next to me has two empty beer cans and a sweet wrapper, all of which we deposit into a nearby bin. We are in neat, carefully-tended gardens just two minutes from Guildford High Street. I remark that I didn’t know this pretty oasis even existed, and I shop in Guildford, a lot.

Experience Guildford Blue Cap Peter Lambert.

Experience Guildford Blue Cap Peter Lambert.

“This is the Alice in Wonderland ‘Jabberwocky’ garden. One of Guildford’s hidden treasures,” says my guide, Pete Lambert, with barely-concealed pride. When we started out on our tour he told me that he “loved Guildford to bits”, I’m beginning to see what he means.

Along with colleague Chrissy Wilcox, 28, the thirty-four year-old is a Blue Cap, a sort of urban ranger. The pair patrol the streets of the town centre, looking for rubbish, checking the structures and street furniture and forging links with shopkeepers. They are funded by Experience Guildford, an organisation set up to administer the Business Improvement District (BID) funding which the town’s businesses voted for in October.

More than 150 BIDs have been established in the UK since 2005. In Kingston upon Thames, shopkeepers have seen footfall to the town centre increase by 22%; Reading’s initiative has been so successful that traders have opted to continue it for another five years. Remarkable in these austere times, as the initiative is funded by the shops and restaurants themselves through a levy based on 1% of their rateable value.

Blue Cap Pete Lambert takes a look at a barrier that appears to have collapsed.

Blue Cap Pete Lambert takes a look at a barrier that appears to have collapsed.

Throughout our trek Pete refers to the ‘levy’. He is clear in his mind who is paying for him to wander round the town he loves. As we start our journey I ask him if he likes his new job.

“I’m really enjoying it. I feel I’m making a little bit of a difference, and it’s good for me too, because I live in the town.”

We start out from the office just off Tunsgate and head up the High Street, towards where the old Argos store was. “Chrissy and I spoke to the shopfitters. There’s going to be a Morrison’s in here,” Pete informs me, before pointing out a tarmacked paving slab outside Headmaster’s hair salon. “The manager showed me this when we first visited him. A few of his customers had tripped on it. I got on to the council (Surrey County Council is responsible for pavements) and it’s on their rapid response list.”

A repair to the pavement in Guildford town centre. But the right one?

A repair to the pavement in Guildford town centre. But the right one?

We walk a few more steps and there’s a freshly tarmacked area – outside a different hairdresser’s. It would appear that the council has fixed the wrong slab. Pete merely sighs, although I get the impression that he’s not always as patient. “I’ll log that job,” he says, pulling out his work smart phone. On it he can record jobs to do via the Geopal app, accessible by the whole team, including general manager Amanda Masters and night-time economy manager, Stuart Craggs.

The team’s jobs dovetail, and Amanda will send items for the Blue Caps to follow up on their rounds. Pete may find rubbish in an alleyway that’s come from a fast food outlet and Stuart’s role is to liaise with pubs and takeaways. The Blue Caps have a vital role co-ordinating various agencies from borough street cleaners to maintenance managers in offices in Kingston upon Thames. They are the eyes and ears of the BID.

Heading down North Street we turn off to the right. Manager of Food For Thought, Alja Hocevar, has previously sought advice about shoplifting. “There’s definitely improved security, more information about what’s happening in Guildford and regular updates. Experience Guildford is helping to bring the shops closer together.” This follow up call is all part of the service for levy payers.

We drop into another shop. This one’s in Angel Gate, J’Adore, a new Italian/French clothes shop. Pete’s job is to explain the BID as the shop is new so won’t have been part of the initial ballot. Most traders are amenable, especially when he explains the ‘free’ marketing and privilege card, available to all town centre employees, although there is a large shop which persists in regarding the team as crooks. “I’m keeping away from them for a while,” says Pete.

Some dumped rubbish – the kind of things the Blue Caps keep a look out for.

Some dumped rubbish – the kind of things the Blue Caps keep a look out for.

When I leave him in the sunshine outside the Tunsgate this Guildfordian is off to tackle another tricky job. This time a non-levy payer has been dumping rubbish overnight. “There’s a good chance they may tell me where to go.”

The Blue Caps job is demanding and varied. Lambert spends only an hour and a half a day in the office, the rest is on the streets – in a uniform consisting of trousers, shorts, T-shirt, fleece and waterproofs, depending on the weather.

Blue Cap Pete Lambert talks to one of the borough council's street cleaners.

Blue Cap Pete Lambert talks to one of the borough council’s street cleaners.

We check his smart phone. It’s been a three-mile walk. Today the weather’s been kind as we’ve strolled up and down the hills, through the Castle Grounds, alongside the river and through the alleyways. I’ve seen (not much) rubbish, fly-tipped crates denied by all of Chapel Street’s restaurants, cracked paving stones awaiting the county council’s attention and a truly treacherous, poorly-roped off set of steps.

I’ve also seen some hidden treasures, outstanding flowerbeds and met appreciative shopkeepers. It’s a great town already and the last words are Pete’s: “I want to help make Guildford the town it’s meant to be.”

The Blue Caps career background’s are in customer services, security and retail management. It’s a physical role but also requires negotiation and organisational skills.

Click here to go to Experience Guildford’s website.

Would you like to be a Blue Cap? They have a vacancy at the moment. See the advertisement on the front page.

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