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...