Thursday, 11 December 2014

New Watford Market ~ what's really going on?

This Saturday which was Small Business Saturday I spent about 4 hours around the Watford market from 10am through to 2pm. This was probably the coldest day so far this year on the New Market. The +Link4Growth Team meet up every Saturday morning at Ell's Kitchen to grab a bacon butty and a coffee or two. This week due to the cold weather we were driven inside the cafe rather than sitting in the outside seating area. Ray has installed some heaters inside the unit.

We were reviewing the new A6 cards example shown which we will be using to start spreading the message wider afield about Link4Growth, community building and the #L4GBuyLocal initiative (please take a look at that blog too).

So... I then had a chance to catch up with some of the market traders as well as do two more videos; Stan E-Cigarette company and Mina from the Shona Boutique. So after 8 weeks and now heading briskly into winter, how is the mood amongst the market traders in what should be their busiest period of the year.

So far I have been down to the New Watford Market every weekend since it opened and there is definitely a different mood from the one in mid October for sure. There are certainly winners and losers on the new market. I am going to be as objective as possible in this report, as you know I am a massive fan of the market and along with all those in support of #L4GBuyLocal and #Watford we have to be honest. There is no point in being blindly positive in the face of what are quite basic shortcomings of the New Market and yet we must look to those who are responsible to get things sorted quickly or face a worsening of the situation which is fast reaching tipping point for a few of the stall holders.

Unlike what is being intimated via the local press the Market Stall holders are not a bunch of moaning traders who have nothing better to do than bash the council or Town & Country Markets (new operator of Watford market). What the stall holders want is a decent place to operate their businesses with facilities that would be afforded anyone paying substantial rents and service fees (£6,000 per annum). Below is a list of items that need resolving, quite honestly it is unacceptable and the Council should be putting pressure on Town & Country Markets to hold a performance review sooner rather than later. They are quite obviously not meeting even basic 'service level' criteria. Ultimately the Council have outsourced the running of the market but they still have a responsibility and duty of care to ensure that their supplier is doing the job!

Toilet & washroom facilities
No cleaning programme or scheduled cleaning... No feminine hygiene facilities... No contracted supplier of toilet rolls or hand towels

General cleaning / housekeeping
One cleaning operative for the entire market with what appears to be little supervision or guidance.

Rubbish mountain debacle
Last week photographic evidence was taken of a veritable mountain of rubbish piled against unit 25 (Shona Boutique). This contained fish heads, meat and food products and represented a health hazard, notwithstanding an open invitation for pest infestation. The severity of the wind lead to one of the commercial bins being blown against a van whose occupant managed to restrain the bin from on the ring road itself, narrowly averting an accident. The rubbish has now been removed, but this incident highlights a lack of proper waste management, something the Market is in urgent need of.

From the day the market was opened there has been inadequate signage. There has been much talk of illuminated signage, projected images highlighting the market location... In fact lots of promises.

What we have are a few light post signs, well above head height and not something you would notice in normal walking mode. Recently completed signs on the Bridge. These don't appear illuminated and really serve to give the impression that the market is actually in the high street itself not where it is tucked away round the corner.

The very least that is required at the high street end is an arrow to indicate where the market is located and some illuminated signs. There appears to be some other signage in Clarendon road which is good and now in other places so we're making progress but still much more to do... And a missed opportunity as the Christmas period is now passing fast.

Some stall holders are now having to resort to paying extra to have an additional high street presence as people are assuming the New Market are the few stalls in the actual High Street ignoring the actual market altogether!

Speaking with Dan (Meanwhile Across Town Comics) at the other end of the market the Clarendon Road side there really needs to be a rethink. An inappropriate car park, bins, poor design and a barely noticeable welcome sign culminate in an extremely lack lustre presentation which does nothing to attract potential visitors from office workers in Clarendon Road. For the New Market to increase footfall, compete for lunchtime trade and be a viable alternate lunchtime destination to Intu this entrance must be rethought. Another 4 or 5 stalls could be sited at this end increasing the variety of merchandise on offer and some decorative wrought iron welcoming arch would present a much more acceptable gateway to our town Market. To be honest the same style Arch ought to be sited at the other entrance too!

Just to add insult to injury the budget allocated to Christmas decorations for the market have provided 3 small Xmas trees with a few lights and an odd bauble. It looks like an after thought... especially when in one situation the power lead stretches across the main walkway!

The trouble with the arrangement of appointing 'private operators' to run services such as the market is that every pound spent on the market is a pound less profit. The focus for Town & Country Markets is clearly... This is a good opportunity providing it yields a decent profit. That profit has nothing to do with the success of the traders, only in careful management of their costs. I'm not saying I have the answer (yet) but with the 'operator' not incentivised to help make this work and the council having washed their hands of it, you can see why the traders now feel the only people interested in their success is themselves. Marginalisation of the market, and poor performance in every aspect of attention to detail in getting the market operational, you could be thinking the powers that be want this to fail.

In spite of all the above the traders at the market are a resilient lot, I get a sense of the good old 'British fighting spirit' emerging,

"we're not going to wither and fade away, we'll not go quietly into the night and disappear... No... We're going to make this work! It's cold at times, it's windy too, it's outside and it's different, but we've invested a lot of time and money in the New Market and we're committed to making it work".

All they would like to see is some effort from those around them and some shared passion for this important part of Watford. This ought to be a destination in Watford, people should see the decorative roof and signage and say 'we want to visit the Watford Market', there is still some way to go in getting even close to this.

There is no doubt that some units will change hands over the coming 12 months. There is every probability that the range of products and services will change as the New Market settles down. The clientele have changed, the people that visited the old market via bus and collected for companionship and coffee once a week have now gone. The market must rebuilt almost from scratch and attract a younger audience and to do this it has to offer something not available elsewhere in Watford... Great food is a start, fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and a Deli... Where is the Deli? But a secret ingredient is still missing to draw in more people, but I personally believe it will happen.

In the same way that we must pull together to rebuild community in Watford, the New Market is a microcosm of this along with supporting all our local independent business owners who are working really hard in difficult trading times. We know that much more of the money we spend stays in the local community if we use local people. The market traders and all our local businesses need our support so please get behind the #L4GBuyLocalWatford campaign and let's ensure that our hard working local people stay in business and help Watford prosper in 2015.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Let's support all our local businesses #L4GBuyLocal

Last Saturday saw the second of the Small Business Saturday initiatives take place. This is a national day 1st Saturday in December that serves to focus people on using small independent traders instead of the 'multiples'. Taking this concept to another level locally #Link4Growth launched their national campaign #L4GBuyLocal. This hashtag is going to be used right across social media to consistently and constantly bang the drum for supporting our local businesses.

In #Watford we are going to be using the hashtag #L4GBuyLocalWatford to promote the independent traders in our high street, the new market and to every small business in the area... and... Everyone can join in!!

Are you running a local business? Do you want more local people to know what you do? Would you like to do more business within a 5 mile radius locally? Would you like to be able to get your skills, knowledge and experience out to a wider audience? ... If the answer to these questions is yes? ... Then... YOU are exactly who we want to talk too... AND... It's not about taking your money off you!!

This is about working together... As a collective community... Collaborating with each other... Supporting each other... and keeping our money in our local economy for longer, so it works for us, locally! When we work together we can all prosper, what have we got to lose?

Check out the A6 Card to the left we are now distributing around Watford...

So... what do you need to do?

Get in touch with #Link4Growth contact : or call 07834 754000 or tweet @chrisogle

What we are effectively doing is creating a local community website hub where everyone can participate, join in, update what's happening, make comments and actually be part of the local community. It includes local News & updates (by us the people of Watford), community TV, a list of all the events where you can meet other local people, localised town / suburb village areas for posting what's happening right where you are... and lots more... all for no cost! ... this is now possible... but who knew until now??

What will happen after you contact us?

  1. We have a conversation about you and your business
  2. We invite you to come and meet other local people looking to rebuild #Watford our community and supporting #L4GBuyLocalWatford (FREE) 
  3. We get you into the online community where you can promote your business... And easily find out about others local businesses too! (FREE)
  4. We provide access to affordable low cost training so you can start to grow and expand your skills and use of technology
  5. YOU become part of something to be proud of. Rebuilding our local community by taking ACTION

What if we all did the above? As you can see this is not about the money this is about creating something that we can all play a part in.

If you have ever said "doesn't matter what I think, nothing will change", or "what they should do is", or "I'm just one person I can't make a difference" ... Then stop it!! ... because now YOU CAN!

We CAN do it when we work together as #TeamWatford ... It's already started... The people in the list at the end of this post are already working hard in Watford... for the people of Watford... Not for the council, not for some big business and not for Money... But for the good people of Watford, because we care about Watford we're passionate about the town and we want to play our part in making it better for us all.

If there were 1,000 or more of us all doing a little bit each... How much more could we do, how fast could we do it? ... The time is now!!! Get in touch... or contact any of the people below... EVERYONE can play a part, young, old, employed, unemployed, female, male... Come and be part of this exciting journey, there has never been anything like it before, YOUR chance to make the changes you want to see... Don't be one of those that look back in ten years who says "I could have done something really important, I had my chance, but I just picked myself up, dusted myself down, and walked on past"

Watford Community Team

Contact us now, YOU CAN make a massive difference :  @chrisogle @link4growth 07834 754000

JOIN US AT Ocean Bells Coffee Company Ltd on the 15th December from 10:00am
JOIN US AT Moon-Under-Water (high street) on the 18th December from 6:00pm

The good news is that this is happening around the country, nationally too! ... If you know people who are community focussed let's help them do the same thing where they are!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Watford vs Luton. Which town should you invest in?

Local property specialist +James Caley investigates two local towns to compare investment opportunities and asks the question, where would you put your money?

As a property investor and a letting agent in Watford I get around a fair bit talking to a fair few landlords and property investors along the way. One question I’m regularly asked is: What do you think about Luton? My first response is usually “Well I never go there unless I’m flying from the Airport!” Of course we’re talking about the town and whether it’s worth investing there compared to Watford. So how does it stack up?

More can be read here... 

Blog post by +James Caley local #Watford Property specialist

Saturday, 6 December 2014

L4G SW Herts End of Year Report

With 2014 now in its last month, I thought it would be appropriate if we had a post that brought everything that L4G SW Herts had done over the year and looked back on the growth in the district over the year. At the end of this blog, I will talk about some of the future plans for 2015 and how things may progress in year ahead.


The essence of Link4Growth is hosting free community building events and bringing people together to see how we can help them. Currently, there are around 15 events a month in a variety of locations and types ranging from coffees, drinks and the occasional curry night which was launched in SW Herts back in September with a follow up in November. As well as increasing the number of events, we have started events in new areas of the district including in Moor Park in the excellent Cafe Loco and in Nash Mills where we collaborate with a local charity called Waterways Experiences who allow us to host our event on board their wide-beam narrowboats. We have also launched a fortnightly event at the Watford Market we people who are interested in buying local can come, meet the L4G team and then be introduced to the traders they want to meet. 

Buy Local

As stated on many different parts of the L4G collateral, buying local and supporting independent businesses is a key part of the L4G ethos. Not only does buying local help support our local communities but it enables us to find some products that aren't available in the national/multi-national chain shops. 

This year, saw the launch of the new market in Watford and this saw a new urgency to give the buy local initiative the spark it needs. As well as the push to expand the Buy Local community on G+, we have created a YouTube playlist which is a list of short videos with the same traders we are looking to help. The playlist can be found here

Charities and CSR

As well as helping local businesses, we also want to help local charities who not only do really good work in our community but they also lack the ability to get their message out to the people who can help them. We regularly host a CSR lunch in Rickmansworth which enables charities to meet businesses who may be able to help them. As a result of these event, we have been able to collaborate with two charities in particular and help promote their events online and offline. L4G has had a presence at many of the events that charities host and this is mainly due to our passion to help these charities.

The SW Herts Community Reporters and District Website

The last 3 months has seen a real team develop in SW Herts in which every member is passionate about bringing the community the good news that happens to the community. Not only does this enable more information to be found and shared, it also reduces the workload for each member and this means they are more able to contribute. See the blog post by +Chris Ogle for details about the team. 

This crack team has enabled us to produce the District Website for SW Herts. This website found here is a one stop shop for all things relevant to SW Herts with links to the Community TV shows, L4G communities on G+, links to local events and a blog which anyone can contribute to. This is key to making it easy for people to find out how to get involved with every aspect that we offer.

The future?

So what does 2015 hold for L4G in SW Herts. Well I cant tell you what will happen but here are some predictions:

  • There will be new events spread around the district. Areas such as Rickmansworth and the Langleys will have new community building events and this will enable us to help as many people as we can in the area. As well as new areas, I'm sure that we will add events in areas like Cassiobury, at West Herts College as well as the soon to be opened Reason Coffee Shop at the top of Watford High Street. 

  • The Buy Local initiative will exploded and the aforementioned Buy Local community will begin to fill with deals, offers and specials from local traders who you can support. Armed with the new BuyLocal cards, members of SW Herts' reporters will be spreading the word of how Link4Growth can help.

  • The CSR lunches will be buzzing with local charities who are looking to remove the cloak of invisibility from around them. This will result in them being found by people who can help them which will result in them achieving their goals in helping people. 

2014 has seemed so many developments and this is just a sample of what has happened this year. 2015 will be as good and next year's report should be even better than this years.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Watford Market Video's update, Skating in Watford and other News!

The plans are well underway to complete a short intro video to every stall holder on the +Watford Market and it is going to be especially good fun in the run up to Christmas. So far around 10 have been done so we are 1/4 of the way there so far... 3 more to do this week at least! ... below Lynne's sewing box and Dean from Shepherds Greeting Cards... you can see all the local independent business video's by clicking here to link to the L4G BuyLocal Business video playlist.


This week I have also been roving around at the top of the high street... yesterday I took some video action of the #WatfordBigEvents Ice Rink... although sceptical at first I think this will turn into a big success... 


This week we will be also looking forward to some news stories from the 8 roving reporters out there in the community... please do check out the SW Herts community TV Show below! Plenty going on this week and with special guest +Catherine Baldwin talking about +The Michael Green Foundation 's recent 'Diabetes Bus' success and their Eat Fit campaign starting in early January 2015... 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Richard Doughty from Watford reverses Diabetes Type 2

A family bereavement, high blood pressure, an unavoidable job change. I thought everything came in threes — but I was wrong. There was more bad news around the corner.

I was a fit 59-year-old and had just had an annual health check at my GP surgery. This revealed I had high blood sugar — 9millimoles per litre, whereas a normal level is 4-6mmol/l — and my doctor suggested I could have diabetes.

Further tests confirmed that, yes, I was type 2 diabetic. I was stunned. I have always been a healthy weight (I am 5ft 7in and just 10st 7lb), had no family history of diabetes, ate a healthy diet, never smoked, and I definitely did not have a sweet tooth.
Determined to find a solution, I began researching the condition and how to beat it.

In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to keep glucose levels normal (in type 1, the pancreas stops producing insulin altogether), and if I didn’t take action, I would be 36 per cent more likely to die early and could suffer bad sight, poor kidneys, heart failure and strokes. I’d also eventually be on medication.

My GP said that my diabetes was mild enough to be controlled through diet alone, and gave me a wad of leaflets on nutrition for diabetics. I took up salads, cut down on carbohydrates and ate my five-a-day — but progress was slow. Over seven months I shed a stone but my blood sugar was still too high — around 7mmol/l.

Read the whole story here...

Monday, 17 November 2014

SW Herts Community Reporters good to go...

There are exciting times ahead for Watford, Rickmansworth and the whole of the South West Herts area. Through the nationwide community building initiative of Link4Growth our local community has it’s own Website featuring, community TV channel, interactive online communities, community calendar (what’s happening locally), business directory and… local news including articles, features and reports about things that are going on in our community.

This is all absolutely FREE to participate in, and moreover we have an initial team of local ‘reporters’ who are on the look out for interesting stories of local significance that we can make public for anyone to be able to read and engage with. The people listed below are all local people who live in or near #Watford and who are passionate about the town we live in. There is so much going on in #Watford it really is the place to be.

+Alex Murray

Alex is a 24 year old Law graduate who has been very active on the local SW Herts scene for the past 14 months. The previous SW Herts Link4Growth District Leader; Alex has taken a year out to finish his qualifications, but he is still working hard in his time off to actively engage and promote community building in SW Herts.

+Paul Roberts

Paul lives in the Central Ward for Watford, a keen Watfordian, Paul is actively involved in local initiatives such as projects to clean up parts of central Watford around where he lives. Paul can often be seen around town and is passionate about building on all the positives that Watford has to offer… many of the pictures on the L4G Watford community have been at the hands of Paul and his trusty camera.

+Reason .....

Neal is going to be even more well known than he is now when his latest enterprise the Reason Coffee Shop opens its doors in early December. Neal is a hugely positive individual with a real desire to see Watford thrive and his Reason Coffee Shop will house a book library which will feature many items on self development, taking action and creating the world that we want to live in. You will see the team often in the Reason Coffee shop when it opens up soon.

+Tania Clarke

Tania is our ‘boat lady’ Watford enthusiast. Tania works in the Parade in Watford High Street and is actively engaged with a great many Watford residents through her work. Tania can be seen sampling the delights of the local independent Watford coffee shops and eateries at lunch times and after work and is a massive fan of helping to get the New Watford Market bustling!

+Diane Richardson

Diane is a Brand & Communications Consultant and has lived in Watford for many years and more recently has been involved with the charity sector. Diane has worked tirelessly with the Watford Women's Centre and raised their profile significantly over the last year or so. Fortunately, Diane is not only a great connector with charities and social enterprises but also with many of the local businesses too. Diane is often about in Watford capturing fantastic images of the local landscape, you can see more of these on the L4G Watford community.

+Catherine Baldwin

Catherine lives in North Watford and with a keen eye for design runs her own design and print enterprise. Catherine does much more than that though, she also helps with imagery / design and website management through her involvement in the Michael Green Foundation; a charity that seeks to raise the awareness of diabetes type 2 nationally. A keen community participant Catherine is really positive about Watford and has her finger on the local pulse.

+jean flower

Jean lives up on the North side of the SW Herts district currently in Abbots Langley and has been a keen community participant for many years. Well networked across the region, Jean has connections in all facets of the local area and is going to provide access to a whole range of interesting local stories. We are also hoping to see a Link4Coffee event running in the Abbots Langley high street in due course!

myself… +Chris Ogle 

A Watfordian all my life (with a brief period in Hemel… wasn’t for me), ex Watford Grammar School and local business owner I am now able to share my passion for Watford through my other passion; technology. I’m based just a short 5 minute walk from the Town centre, and delighted to be involved in promoting the amazing new Watford Market with the assistance of those already mentioned above. Watford is an amazing town and there is so much going for it, we just need to help people see what is before their eyes… and that’s the mission!

So… please ask yourself?

  1. Are you passionate about Watford? 
  2. Do you share our enthusiasm for our local town? 
  3. Have you got news that never makes it into the local newspaper? 
  4. Do you have a good news story to tell that remains untold because no one picked up on it?
  5. Do you know of people doing great work but that no one knows about?

People of Watford!! … there are so many good things going on locally that people never ever hear about, stories that show people really care about others, stories that demonstrate there is more to life than just money and the constant battle to win. Stories that help us to focus on the good that is out there and also find out about those in need, especially at this time of year. Stories that connect us with what is happening right under our noses and that we can actually do something about… but only if these stories get told…

So people of Watford… we urge you… if you have a story? … if you have something that you want to share with other local people? … please let us know… or…

Would you like to help us rebuild community locally? Would you like to be involved in #TeamWatford and start to be involved in creating real change locally here in Watford? There is a lot to do… but many hands make light work… why not get in touch and help us get the community of Watford buzzing! … We are the cavalry, it is up to us, this is our time!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Richard Harrington and the Job creation scheme...

Jobs boost as 1600 Watford businesses take advantage of Government tax break

Friday, 7 November, 2014
Figures released today show that 1600 business in Watford, Oxhey and Abbots Langley have benefitted from a tax break introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer earlier this year.
Interesting statistics, however in talking to people recently who are involved at the sharp end of placing young people into work we see that many of these 'new' roles are being used to obtain low cost employees with little promise of long term jobs... after the period of entitlement the young person can often find themselves back out of work... and another taken on under the scheme to replace them... skills learned during the work period have varied to. Some people are taken on and become part of the team others are involved in more menial work and then return to unemployed...

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

New Watford Market construction story and picture timeline

Shipping container architecture: Watford Market was constructed using 42 shipping containers.

New watford market shipping container architectureThe Watford Market was constructed from 42 converted shipping containers assembled in two levels. The company that supplied the containers is a company called Adaptainer based in Ipswich and Flaunden near Bovingdon.

The containers selected were from 10, 20 and 40' stock that Adaptainer holds and the units required extensive modification to provide, windows, roller blinds, vents and all the other paraphernalia required in the multi purpose usage they were being put to in the market... it was particularly challenging to assemble the units due to the limited space available on the site.

Please click here to read the full story and see the pictures through the market development process...

Thursday, 30 October 2014

South West Herts Community Website goes live

The new South West Herts Community Website is now live! This post is here to explain a few of the features and to help you get around.

On the left you can see the toolbar in the top section of the Website. This has a number of links... (1) What is Link4Growth? (2) The national discussion forums that link all of us involved in community building (3) The local Link4Growth events where we can all meet and have conversations (4) The community calendar which will be a fantastic resource for everything happening locally all in one place. The great news is that multiple people can given the ability to update the calendar enabling us to share the load and reach out to get all the community events (5) Training and Workshops, which links to the Link4Skills education and learning platform... all about sharing knowledge experience, expertise and helping connect those that need knowledge with those that have it!

The main body of the website is where the 'Blogs' appear and like the calendar anyone that wants to write articles or content about things happening in the community can be set up as guest bloggers. If you think local newspapers and think articles, features or reports then this is exactly what the blog can be used for... know anyone that is keen to get their information out to a wider audience locally? ... then please write it up and pass it over! ... if you know any retired journalists or copywriters that would like to get involved in local community reporting as well as demonstrate their writing skills please let them know that 'we need them' or... anyone at college looking at media or journalism and would like to get some practice in? ... these are all opportunities going to those that have their eyes open! ... lots of local people will see these posts, what better way to get yourself noticed... the faster the better!

So what else have we go on the website... looking down the right hand side... The first bit if you want to subscribe to this website and get emailed when updates happen... this is where you do it... the second section is a 4 minute audio about what Link4Growth is all about... worth a listen... then underneath this (image right) there is community TV... at the moment we run just the one show on a Friday afternoon, this is a general news show providing updates on what is happening locally... but there is huge potential here for all sorts of different local programmes... from debates and discussions on local matters to channels for the young in our community, charity corner to raise awareness, independent local traders spotlight and so much more... again... if you want to get on and talk to the people of SW Herts you can do this right here... watch for lots of interesting TV as we begin to pursue the local politicians in the run up to the election...

On the far right hand side we have two (it might be more later) sets of communities. These you will recognise as the towns and suburbs of the SW Herts District, and Local Business communities (business parks in Watford). There is also a BuyLocal Watford... if you know any local independent businesses get them to sort out their Business Page on G+ and join the BuyLocal community that is what it is there for!!

Just click on these communities to visit them... these communities are where any of us can make the news about things going on around us, what we're interested in, all local posts by people living and / or working locally. We even run competitions such as the picture competition organised in conjunction with the Watford Women's Centre. These communities are a really easy way for you to engage with other local people around you, and also we look at these posts for content to share on the blog... and maybe do a feature on!! Please do join in and send the link to other local people you know to get them involved too!

We also have the blog archive displayed... this is the archive of posts that have been added previously... always interesting to look back and read things that have gone before...

When a blog post is added we can add labels as a way of finding articles, features about specific areas... these are listed in the first of the right hand column sidebars. When we start to post about Rickmansworth or Abbots Langley these labels will be used so that you can home in on the parts which are likely to be of most interest to you. On the far right you can see a link to the SW Herts District Page... think County council... and this is kind of what the District page is about keeping you up to date with what is happening with Link4Growth across the District. Such as new coffees, new announcements and the like... so please add the District Page to your circles so you don't miss out on the news as it happens. There is also a link there to my own profile page as acting District Leader. Please do add me to your circles I will reciprocate.

I think that this website for the local community will enable us to provide a really comprehensive information platform to serve the local community. It is totally free to use, ad free and the best bit, it allows any of us who want to contribute to be able to do so, easily and effectively. Please do share this website with others, I know there is a lot going on out there in the community... we now have a platform that allows us to get it out to others in the community easily and at NO COST!! ... shall we?

Sunday, 26 October 2014

How are things progressing down at the New Watford Market?

This Saturday 25th October I was down at the #NewWatfordMarket to catch up with the stall holders and how they were doing after the first two weeks of trading. During this time we have had a fair amount of rain... the back end of that hurricane Gonzo or whatever it was... and some mild and cold weather!

To the left a #Google #AutoAwesome video of 3 Interviews that I did with Ray proprietor of Ell's Cafe, Gary who is the owner of the fruit and vegetable stall and AJ who runs 'Nuts about Spice'.

The market is officially opened this Friday coming the 31st October... and last week saw the handover of the site to Town & Country who operate a number of markets around the country.

Personally and I know that I speak for many others also we want the market to be a huge success and to be honest now it has moved the only option available to the traders is to get on with it. There are some who have fared better in this move up the high street than others and it was with the specific intention of finding out what the 'lay of the land' was; first hand, that I donned #glass and set about doing some video interviews. There are no agenda's here... I just wanted to find out how these traders had acclimatized to what is a very different set of operating conditions to the ones recently vacated.

Below the three interviews...

Ray operates the highly very popular Ell's cafe and this is where we at Link4Growth host our Saturday Link4Coffee on the market. Of all the traders Ray has probably had to re-invent his business the most. Upstairs the cafe area has far less space than they had previously, it is out doors and so far colder, much further from the bus stops that brought the elderly clientele and serviced by a lift and narrow stairs both of which have some challenges. Ray has experienced periodic electricity blackouts and suffers from a real lack of storage space too... but he's upbeat, he knows that to make this work he has to alter the way the team work... for example they are now offering waitress service to take the food to people as the cramped conditions make getting food out virtually impossible and people waiting clogs up the operation inside the unit.  Ray is looking forward to getting the 2nd unit which is primarily a take away service downstairs up and running and hopefully local office staff will be able to pop buy for hot food and drink from this Friday when the market open officially. We wish you and the team all the best Ray!

Gary is the man behind the Fruit and Veg store on the Watford Market... Gary has been operating the Watford Market for 14 years and in our interview he states that you have to look at this new market as a completely new business. Gary actually has 3 sites in Watford, the one outside the old Charter place opposite the One Bell... one just inside the market and then the much larger Gazebo based area in the high street by the flyover. Although Gary is pretty confident that the move to this new position will be a success it does not come without some challenges! The tail end of the hurricane this week meant that Gary was forced to acquire 400lbs in weights to keep his new Gazebo on the ground! The new market being outside will mean that the winter months might seem a lot longer than those under the roof in charter place... we hope that a steady supply of thermals are on order for the team! Gary is also constrained by a huge lack of storage space which is a comment from pretty much all the traders I have spoken with... let us hope that this is a minor irritation that can soon be put right!

My 3rd Interview was with AJ the 'Nuts about Spice' lady. I've been buying nuts and various spices, bread flour's and a whole array of other goodies over the year but how has this move affected AJ. Well significantly is the word. AJ is finding that the 5 day a week regime in the new market is taking its toll... being a sole operator pretty much means that much of the weighing work, measuring, boxing and planning must take place in the evening, making her workload much larger than in the old market. AJ is finding that the box type nature of the unit is also deterring people from entering the stall as people feel like once they are in, then they feel that they will have to buy something... What with this and also the fact that there is no parking in the immediate vicinity, at times lugging stock backwards and forwards is a real chore only exacerbated once again by the lack of available storage on site.

The New Market is up and running... but there is a long way to go... the roof leaks, the lift is not fit for purpose, the stairs too narrow, inadequate onsite storage and seemingly a lot more rules and regs that are stifling the traders creativity to get over some of the obvious hurdles they are experiencing...

The market will succeed.... of that there is little doubt, it's in the town charter to have a market and so unless the charter is changed the market is safe... what we have to do folks is get down there and support our local traders... the more we do this... the better it will become I'm sure!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The new Watford Market opens its doors... to rapturous applause?

Picture by Paul Roberts
In a second blog post about the #WatfordMarket I thought that I would share some of the initial thoughts, the feedback from the market traders and the reactions from some of the general public.

Well it was all very exciting... I turned up around 10:10am on the Friday the day the new market started operating (official launch 31st October). This must be considered a bit of a soft launch as there are still traders not operating there as yet... some parts of the market are unfinished too resembling a building site in places. The electrics are not complete either, the lift wasn't working on Friday (was functional on Saturday) and there were seemingly a million and one teething problems. Nevertheless, the market seemed bustling and there was plenty of action. I bumped into a huge number of people I knew who were there checking out this quite significant development in Watford.

So what did I make of this move for the Market? If the truth be known I never actually liked the concept of the Market being inside like it was at Charter Place but after 38 years you just get used to it. This new market though has a challenge too. Firstly it is quite a distance from the buses. Yes you can walk down to it from the bus stops in the high street or Beecham Grove but where the old market was the older generation could just fall into it... now it's a fair walk. Many of those that congregated at Ell's kitchen used supports for walking or shopping trolleys and quite a few others; buggies to get around. I just can't see how these folk are going to be able to use the new market. The testimony to this was that I saw only one buggy there over the two days I was there... and very few of the older generation that would have frequented the old market.

Picture by Jo Hayden
The new market is also small... 44 stall holders. I think that without exception every stall holder I asked said that they have had to compromise on space, to be honest they all looked to be struggling in cramped operating conditions. The Fruit & Veg stall outside in the main high street I think is a huge bonus. This is a clear signpost to the new market and brings a fresh splash of colour to the pedestrianised section of the high street. I have little doubt that this development will be a huge success, you never know we could actually start to see people buying fresh fruit and veg and cooking wholesome proper food!!

The card stall holder had around half of his stock on display... he had twice the space for the same price down the road... Aylesbury fisheries were operating in a far more cramped environment even with some of their produce in the open definitely not going to be possible when raining.

Picture by Alex Murray
A couple of poor design flaws that have become evident almost immediately. The stairs to reach the food court are narrow... this makes it difficult for people to pass and I can see some issues with this at peak times. There should be at least two sets of stairs, there is another which is labelled as a fire exit... I am not sure but it would be useful to have this opened to the public too. One lift on site means that this is going to be a bottleneck and waiting for it is right in the main thoroughfare to get into the market... There should have been two lifts. Upstairs there is a viewing gallery to look down below. Check out the pictures to see this. Again this is far too large. The issue upstairs is one of seating. If this gap was 2 feet smaller all round it would have provided ample additional seating all around the upstairs with views to the passing people below, this would have made the space much more functional. As it is this is going to be a challenge.

Photo by Paul Roberts
I quite like the new market and it is perhaps a little unfair to evaluate it fully until it is officially finished at the end of the month. The feeling is one of 'outside' like a proper market, with a nip in the air, and market type smells. The roof is aesthetically pleasing too, although questions over whether it will be totally functional with heavy rain and wind blowing in from the sides are yet to be answered.

I can't help feeling though that those in authority in Watford have decided to tuck this new market out of the way, in a quiet backwater so that it doesn't affect the main business of the town... Intu shopping mall experience, Imax cinemas and restaurants. The market has been scaled down... the space each trader has reduced... accessibility more challenging... I hope that the market beds down to be a thriving new segment of the High Street and that over time the stall holders acclimatise to their different operating conditions... only time will tell... we will keep you posted as the story unfolds... won't we +Alex Murray  

To see my walkabout round the new market through #Google #Glass please click this link...

Friday, 10 October 2014

L4G SW Herts Update 10 October 2014

This week's Community TV show had to be cancelled today as I needed the time to concentrate on my law course. I appreciate some of you may be disappointed but I hope you understand that balancing a 40 hour a week degree and a full time role with Link4Growth isn't an easy task and I promise that next week, I will be back better than every in the video format. This week, you will have to put up with this blog to find out what is going on in SW Herts.

I normally end my #CommunityTVShow with shout outs but this week, I feel that it is important to start this week with them. I want to give +Catherine Baldwin a massive shout out this week as she stepped up to host the #Link4Coffee event as the Mercure Hotel in Watford. This was the 1st time that Catherine had every hosted a Link4Growth event and I am delighted to hear some of the positive feedback from the event. What made it even more impressive is that, she did this without an experienced figure helping her. Ideally, I would have helped a new host with their first event but due to circumstances, this was unable to happen. Catherine, I know you enjoyed your experiences and I hope that it won't cost me many more pints of cider to see if we can make this a permanent appointment. 

The other people I would like to give a shout out to are my amazing community hosts. Running a Link4Growth district is not an easy task and I couldn't do it without a team who support me. These guys hosts the events and explain the Link4Growth message to new attendees. They also provide me with a sounding board for new ideas and tweaks that we could make to improve the #L4G experience. I will be writing a piece in the coming days to give a brief introduction to my team in SW Herts so that people know who the community hosts and why they are doing amazing work.

Where's Alex Been/Local News

Rather than discuss this in two separate sections I want to focus on the Watford Market this week. For those who did not know, the old market closed its doors on Saturday and brought an end to the market in Charter Place. However, today (Friday 10th October 2014), the New Watford Market opened to its public with much anticipation. Last week, I hosted the last ever #Link4Coffee event at the old market and we used this opportunity to invite a local photographer +Jo Hayden to come and take some photos of the market. This alongside +Chris Ogle's video will provide a lasting memory of how the market use to be. Jo's photo's can be found here and Chris' video found here.

Today, the new market opened and my initial thoughts were that it looks modern and more spacious than I initially expected. Whilst this was a 'soft opening', I am sure that it will be getting even busier once it is handed over to the management team on the 31st October. Chris has again used his new toy Google Glass, why isn't it glasses, to give people a tour of the market and the video can be found here.

District News

Next week, I am please to say that #Link4Drinks returns to Watford at Moon Under Water on Thursday between 6-9pm. Link4Drinks has been a brilliant event over the last few months and now with host +Diane Richardson stewarding the event, I know things will continue to get better. I am pleased to report that Diane will be hosting guests from Link4Growth Durham and North Yorkshire and Link4Growth Derbyshire and I am sure that this will be an event not to be missed. All the details are here.

One last piece of news is that November's Link4Drinks has been altered slightly to enable us to support the +Watford Women's Centre's Wine Evening. I for one cannot wait for the event and I am sure that I will be seeing many of the Link4Drinks regulars at the event. Please speak to Diane or visit their Eventbrite page for tickets. 

I hope you all have a good week and I look forward to speaking to you all on air next week. 


Monday, 6 October 2014

The end of an Era - Watford Market in Charter Place

Photography - Jo Hayden
So on Saturday 4th October 2014 the curtain finally closed on #WatfordMarket in its current location in Charter Place. For some 38 years the market has been resident there... and I was still a young schoolboy attending Watford Boys Grammar School when the doors first opened, I can recall many a time walking through the market en-route to Clarendon Road to catch the 318 to Abbots Langley.

Although many of the traders had already departed the Market as you can see by the picture to the left, there were still a good many trading until the final day. Allegedly there was a small closing celebration organised by Watford Council or the Market management team after the market closed... although they were asking the traders if they wanted to make a contribution to the nibbles and drink... this went down like a concrete zeppelin with some I spoke too... an offer of some runner beans and figs was surprisingly turned down.

The new market opens in its new home a little bit further up the high street to the right of the Flyover next Friday 10th October with the only trading day being missed this Tuesday. The new market will be open 5 days a week... Tuesday through Saturday. The 5 day opening regime has prevented many of the existing market traders from moving to the new market on account of their business being part time or being present in other locations on other days of the week.

There is still some concern whether the electrics will be installed and functional for the grand opening on Friday, certainly there is still much work to do before the end of the week. After a number of delays and what seemed like an ever shifting set of dates for the move, it's now definitely happening... I know both +Alex Murray and myself will get along to the new Market on Friday... we will be there again trying out the new Coffee location on Saturday as well from 10:00am... see you there?

Here is a link to the video of my final walk around the old Watford Market...

Here is a link to over 100 pictures from Jo Hayden on the final day of the Charter Place Watford Market...

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Why I Love Watford!

As I was coming back from London this afternoon on what was a rather slow fast service, I thought to myself that ‘Watford isn’t a bad place to live actually.’ With great transport links making the dreaded commute a relatively short journey, a buzzing town centre with just about everything a person needs and plans for development that will improve the town even more, I rethought my phrase ‘Watford isn’t a bad place to live’ and thought ‘ I love Watford’.

I then thought that it would be brilliant to write a little blog piece about some of the reasons why I love to live in Watford and why I plan to stay here for the foreseeable future. Before anyone comments, I actually live in Bushey but that isn’t important as most people in Bushey use Watford for their needs.

Watford has everything you need
One of the main reasons why I love Watford is because it has everything that a person needs to live their life. The Harlequin, sorry Intu Watford, is a brilliant shopping centre and caters for most people’s needs. It has a great range of clothes stores and I feel it caters to the needs of the majority of the town. With the exception of Debenhams, I can’t think of a major store that isn’t based within the shopping centre and this means that people have everything under one roof. When I need a new suit I pop into Moss Bros and they can either find something I like in store or order it in and it will be there within a few days.

It aint easy being Green, unless you live in Watford!
As mentioned on the Community TV Show last week, Cassiobury Park has been nominated for a green flag award and should it win the competition, it will be considered the best park in the country. Within 10 minutes of the high street, we could have an award winning park and the ability to enjoy a sunny day in its surroundings. I spent one morning this summer walking around the park and taking advantage of its beauty for no particular reason than to get out and enjoy the fresh air.  I feel that with features like the Grand Union Canal and Bluebell Woods, we have the best of both worlds; a thriving town centre with everything we need and the natural beauty of the countryside to relax and unwind in.

Top Quality Independence
For anyone who doesn’t know, I love buying local and am a firm supporter of Link4Growth’s #BuyLocal campaign. I believe that not only is buying local cheaper than buying at the chains, it is a better experience. Since joining Link4Growth last year, I have found myself more aware of the local businesses that are in Watford and believe they provide some of the best produce in town. For example, I was in the awesome Ocean Bells Coffee Shop today for a quick cappuccino and a sweet treat before going back to the textbooks and I loved the experience. As well as awesome coffee and a tasty brownie, the service was brilliant and because I have started to make an effort to go there, I have been able to build up a rapport with the staff and get their advice about where I should get my coffee in London.

These people are experts in what they are doing and have chosen to work there rather than seeing it as a ‘job’. They aren’t doing it for the money; they are doing it because they love what they are doing and want to do something they love. I could have used many other examples of local businesses in Watford such as the LP cafe or any of many stalls on the market.

Closing Thoughts

These are just a few of the reasons why I love Watford. I hope this article starts a discussion of why you love Watford and encourages you to even write you own article about why you love Watford. For all the negatives about Watford, I believe many of these are myths and over-exaggerations. We have got a mindset where we believe our town isn’t as good as it could be but if we think about it, I believe we have one of the best towns to live in and we should embrace it!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

New Links on the L4G SW Herts blog and opportunity to get your events listed

Well we are now well into the autumn semester, back at school, days drawing in, summer becoming a distant memory, although we have to be very pleased with the temperatures which reached 26.5c as I drove back from Wales last week.

In the SW District as you have heard through +Alex Murray (and the community TV show) we have not been idle and a lot of work has been going on in the background to bring systems and processes up to speed to cater for the expansion right across the country. We have made some minor but important adjustments to the SW Herts District Blog, which we will begin to use much more now as a focal point along with the G+ communities covering the district.

New L4G SW Herts Calendar Tab

There is a new tab on the top now which is L4G SW Herts Calendar, if you host events and would like to be able to add events into the calendar directly then please do let +Alex Murray or +Chris Ogle (that's me) know and we can provide you with the ability to put your events in directly, the more people doing their own adding the less onerous for those trying to keep it all together... I'm thinking +Diane Richardson and +Catherine Baldwin you might benefit from being able to do this, and there will be many others. If you know of events coming up, and would like us to add them, please do contact us and let us know so we can pop them on... any links to the events with details to assist us would be most welcome!

The aim of the calendar is to serve all in the community and provide a central place where everything that is happening can be placed easily with the minimum of fuss...

Workshops / Training - Link4Skills

Also... we have now added a new tab for Workshops / Training. Link4Growth offers a multitude of workshops all delivered online. We have the foundation engagement programme that is aimed at getting people to be able to participate effectively online, this covers things like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Hootsuite, Google+, Google Hangouts, Pinterest and others too! ... but in addition those that wish to deliver online workshops can be accredited through Link4Growth and then offer these workshops to the growing Link4Growth community and beyond... if you have knowledge, experience and skills you want to share, then come and talk to us about how we can help you!

That's it... a short sharp post just to provide a few quick updates on what is happening...

Sunday, 3 August 2014

L4G SW Herts Half-Year Update: #It'sAwesome

With 2014 now being officially 8 months old, we at +Link4Growth SW Herts thought it more than necessary to take a step back from what is going on this weekend, lots by the way, to bring you our half-year report on the 1st 7 months of 2014 to take time to show how much progress has happened since the year began and to outline some objectives for the rest of the year ahead. 

Where better to start that what +Link4Growth is probably most known for and that is events. Currently in SW Herts, we have 10 events a month. This year we have added a brand new coffee in Northwood which launched in July as well as L4GYouth drinks which will be a vital tool for helping young people in our community learn about the world and to make sure they are fully equipt for the working world. Lastly, we have launched two coffees on Saturday morning at Eli's Kitchen on the Watford Market. For many months, +Chris Ogle and I seemed to be the only people who knew about the events but over the course of the last month, people are starting to be aware that we are there and are joining us for a coffee. The event is a great way to not only build community but also meet some of the awesome market traders who are truly experts in what they sell. I'm sure in the coming months, Eli's Kitchen will be full of people getting to know each other and then buying locally for some food for the weekend.

Whilst mentioning L4GYouth and the idea of buying local, now seems the most appropriate time to talk about the #CSIWatford project. For anyone who doesn't know, CSI stands for Community Student Initiative and the project launches in September with the help of Stanmore College whose students will be working alongside local charities and small independent businesses to build them each a Google+ business page and then for a period, help with the promoting off it. More can be found here but as this is a no lose situation for everyone involved, a huge amount of progress will be made in a short period of time. 

Speaking of Google+, a huge amount of progress has been made on the L4G Watford community and I am quite amazing by it. Only a few months ago, it seemed like it was only myself and Chris posting in there and now we have a 'thriving' community in there. People began to see that they can easily get involved by simply getting their smart phones out, taking a few pictures and then commenting on them. This simple concept allowed +Diane Richardson to come up with the awesome #wwcplusphoto competition which has really shown that not only does Watford and SW Herts have some awesome buildings but it has a town full of people who want to tell people what they know about them as well. You still have time to enter the competition and win some amazing prizes and have the chance to have the +Watford Women's Centre raise some funds. 

Also using Google+, SW Herts debuted the concept of #CommunityTV allowing the district leaders a chance to bring the local updates from #Link4Growth and to allow everyone and anyone the chance to come on and talk about their issues. We had some awesome guests such as +Tania Clarke+mike bridger and who can't forget the awesome show featuring the awesome trio of +Tracey Burke, +Lester Wagman and +Sara Jane Trebar. Now with my awesome co-host +Carol Dodsley, #CommunityTV will be going from strength to strengthen.  

Now after looking at where we have come from, I plan to look to the future and what is coming up and planned for the future in SW Herts. In terms of events, the district again is at the cutting end of things and in September, the launch of the L4GCurry will take place in Watford. This event will combine some of our favorite things in this country; community building and Indian food. I know this will be a great event and I hope to see as many faces, old and new there. All the details can be found here.

Due to the awesomeness of Google+, each district page can have its own blog and I am now looking to take advantage of this. I am actively recruiting keen bloggers and writers from the area to start contributing to it. I know that +Paul Roberts is going to be the blog's historian and hopefully will be bring you blogs about the historical side to the area. I'm also keen for a cultural blogger to showcase the area's artistic side and showcase all the events that are happening, a sporting blogger who will bring you up to date with all the sports news from the area, not just the football club!! Lastly, how about a foodie blogger who, whenever they try a restaurant in the area, gives use a little review with pictures. If anyone fancies having a go at one of these blogs let me know or throw suggestions to me!!

Lastly, I plan to bring other people into the SW Herts team for people who want to step up to help run one of the events in the area. If we all take responsibility for 1% of the work, before long we will be in a position to have events in new areas of the district or in different venues of existing ones. If you are up for the challenge and want to take advantage of the benefits that come with it, let me know and we will get things rolling.

I hope this blog has reminded you as well as me where we as a district has come from in the 1st half of 2014 and that the district will be 'thriving' (sorry +Tania for using the pun again) by the time the bells begin to ring out for 2015. I made a promise on my L4GSoundbite that  SW Herts will be the best district in #Link4Growth. I don't intend to break that promise and with the competition coming from those guys 'up norf' led by +Gerri Riddiough, I know that it will not be easy but its going to be fun trying!!