Efforts to maintain a high profile for Society activities have met with considerable success during the past year. Two important election hustings events organised by the Society were well attended and, for many of those non-members in the large Public Hall, helped publicise the Society’s activities or, perhaps in some cases, its existence! The General Election hustings meeting in December was filmed and edited into five short videos which could be viewed on YouTube.
Other Society activities included participation in the June Harpenden Carnival where, in partnership with Harpenden Fitness Space, our stand attracted numerous keep-fit enthusiasts, eager to indulge in some beneficial exercise.
Publicity for Society endeavours enjoyed coverage, not only in our quarterly newsletter, but in social media such as Harpenden Network, Next Door and Harpendia.
Retail business in the town had another mixed year. Some shops reported good trading while others faired less well. In Southdown Stage Door sadly closed, as did the greengrocer Reads after only a year or two. The George and the Old Cock both underwent major refurbishments to attract diners as much as drinkers. More recently the Slug and Lettuce in Lower High Street reopened as ‘The Wheatsheaf’ describing itself as a ‘sports bar’.
Meanwhile the ‘Mad Squirrel’ bar failed to attract regular drinkers and closed. Jackson’s Kitchens closed after over 25 years, as did Fine Kitchens, though thankfully Dwayne Edwards replaced them with its first retail outlet after making kitchens near Flamstead for 17 years. Skye Optometrists reopened their existing store in Bowers Parade by expanding into the long-empty Galloways shoe shop. On the commercial front Rothamsted Research is converting its historic original home, the Russell Building, into an office hub, whilst British Coal Pension Fund, the Southdown Industrial Estate landowner has terminated its leases for The Big Space (which has closed down) and Artscape (which has moved to Coldharbour Lane).
The most significant commercial/retail property news though concerns ‘The Harpenden Estate’, the block of shops, offices and flats between the High Street and Leyton Road from Church Green to Pappa Johns pizza outlet. SADC led by the Lib Dems, with support from Labour councillors, has voted to proceed with the purchase of the whole block for over £18 million, via a 50-year mortgage, notwithstanding great concerns about the risks and financial viability of the venture raised by opposition Conservative councillors and others.