Sunday, 29 March 2015

Latest update from local property expert James Caley

With the Croxley Rail Link being given the green light to start work, +James Caley's latest blog discusses the effect the project may have on the local housing market. An interesting read for anyone interested in the local property scene.

To read the full blog click here

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Is this going to be a historic moment for the Market Town of Watford (without a market) ?

Last night at 5pm on the 24th March the +New Watford Market traders convened once more to discuss their situation with the impending rate rises for their stalls. Although invited Town and Country Markets declined to attend. The meeting had been called by the traders to review what has become a highly volatile situation as outlined by my post just a few days ago.

The main crux of the problem to recap is that the market move has drastically reduced the footfall with most traders working at a loss week on week hanging in there with the hope that things will improve. But there is only so long that you can finance losses... and with an average weekly takings for some store holders of less than the rent... we're talking takings here not profit... the end of the line is near for many.

Can you imagine owning a successful business at the old market, being forced to move through no fault of your own... being subject to a 60% downturn in business, making a loss for 6 months and then being told your rent is going to double. This in effect is what is happening. You can call it different things if you want but in terms of cash flow, this is the harsh reality.

So with the council saying that it's down to Town & Country Markets as they are operators of the market and with Town and Country saying they are in for the long haul and they want the market to work, but won't budge on the rent issue... we enter a period of stale mate? ... or rather we don't! Talking to traders today many of them; and that is 10 or more, are prepared to walk if this issue is not resolved. Quite simply something has to give. With so many units empty already (5+) it's clearly not as easy to attract new stall holders as some would have you believe!

Saturday morning on the New Watford Market
Saturday Morning on the New Watford Market
It is time out. This experiment in its current form has failed. The big question now is... is Dorothy Thornhill going to go down in history as the Mayor that deprived Watford of its Market Town status? or are we all prepared to sit around the table ditch the pride and ego's and resolve this? What we do know is that these market traders want to trade. They haven't stuck it out during the winter months to give up now. Why though should they alone pay the price, when there are three parties involved in this relationship?

I haven't seen the exact figures, but I know that from the income collected by Town & Country markets from the traders rents a fixed portion is passed to the Council for the privilege of operating the market, with a percentage of the profits too. So in rosy times all looks well... but what about when things are bad... where there are no profits and the traders are losing money... Who picks up the tab in the bad times.... errr... the traders it looks like.... the council still get paid... Town & Country claw as much income as they can from loss making businesses... doesn't this strike you as just a tad unfair?

With a significant number of units empty now, and with new potential occupants having the advantage of looking back at the past 6 months track record and lack of footfall you cannot blame a number of desirable future tenants walking away from this opportunity. Something fairly major needs to be done!

Nothing short of waiving rents, returning to a three day week and bringing a new portfolio of businesses into the market with a rent free window is going to deliver. A proper steering group (with teeth) for the new market was another great suggestion, set up to ensure that the Infrastructure needs, trading portfolio and marketing messages put out there created an exciting destination that people would want to visit.  The traders have given all there is to give, I see it in their faces week after week. This is not a doom and gloom post I believe we can turn it around, and as readers of my posts will know I am a massive fan of the market. I am oft chastised for reporting bad news about the market as it will drive people away... there is no one left to drive away... wake up!! ... the game is up... a heavy dose of reality is required it has gone beyond a 'bit of bad news'!

I know that the Town Centre Partnership meets Thursday 26th March. +Kate Leach (Watford For You) was also at the meeting last night, she has promised to air the plight of the market at their gathering tomorrow. The Mayor will be there along with many of the other larger businesses of Watford. The clock is ticking there are only a few days before the rent rises kick in... I do hope that there is a mad rush of sanity and someone makes a good decision before the next play kicks off... otherwise I can't help thinking that this might just become a local election issue very soon!

It might be a small thing but it's the start of something much bigger

So to many the gist of this post might be a small thing, hardly noteworthy enough to get a mention, but to me... it is a moment of great significance...

If you look at the image above. This is a slice from the Watford Community stream on G+. Nothing of any great import there. But take a closer look at the Madarin Duck thread on the right hand side. This was a post originally made by +Daryl Gerard Morrissey to the public at large. I have had the honour of meeting Daryl a fellow ex Watford Boys pupil once at the old Watford Market and follow his posts. So noticing that this was about #Watford I reshared into the Watford community as you see above.

Now... if you look at the post a certain +Shirley Ogle has responded. This is my mum of course. Who celebrates her 80th birthday on April 1st. Mum has managed to sort out Facebook and keeps up to date on her iPad with all the goings on inside the family with grandchildren and great grandchildren too... But I also gave her a glimpse of what was happening in Watford through our implementation of community on the G+ platform. My mum now reads the Watford community like a newspaper to keep up to date with what is happening locally... and not just Watford there is Rickmansworth, Croxley, Abbots Langley, Garston, Northwood, Oxhey, Bushey... etc. etc.

As we continue to work in the community building connections and showing people how they can share what is happening in their lives, whether that is social, community or business, what happens is that there is the realisation that we the people can now control the media... we are the media, we are the reporters... we can share what we think is important. The more of us that do this, the more rich and varied the stories are just like real community. Do you know what the good thing about this is? Mostly what is posted is positive, good news stories, great pictures around our towns, things we should be grateful for... not car crashes, stabbings and bad things... there is so much good going on out there we just don't get to hear about it!! ... NOW WE CAN!!

... and there are people like my mum... not so mobile these days who can keep up with interesting, positive things happening in the community... they can feel connected... get involved as my mum has... make new friends... not feel so isolated... how amazing is that??  I don't want you thinking I never go and see my mum and leave on her own constantly I am sure she will testify to that not being the case... but can you see that by building this community online locally what an amazing resource we have at our disposal... and the best part? ... it is totally free to get involved!! ... and we are doing this nationwide...

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Update on the New Watford Market - March 21st 2015

So over 3 months after my blog about what was really happening at the market, and now 10 weeks after the much more positive post from the meeting held on the Market January 5th this year. If you read the post of the 11th January there was a long list of improvements promised... 3 working groups set up to cover infrastructure, marketing and ensuring the right kind of stall holders were being selected when vacancies became available. These groups were to have a Town & Country representative on them to organise and feed back information.

What has happened in the ensuing 3 months. Not much to be perfectly frank. A lot of speculation, a lot of promises but not much has happened. The 3 groups have not met nor have any meetings been scheduled as far as I know. The long list of improvements including a sound system for the Market and heaters for upstairs in the food court area, all much discussed but nothing has yet materialised. The heaters are expected to be installed end of March 2015... Since being advised of this end of February things have gone very quiet on this front again. Soon we won't be needing them until next winter.

There is an ongoing battle with every trader regarding half a weeks rent over a mix up about when the opening 4 weeks at half rent started back in October 2014. The heavy handed approach used to notify traders of this has resulted in a worsening of relations between the Stall holders and the operator 'Town and Country'.

With the delayed opening of the Market late last year, the New Market was always going to limp through as winter took hold. Without at least 3 months of warm weather to form new habits around the market, many people have just taken the easy warmer option and gone elsewhere.

Spring has arrived, but with that also the impending return to full rents for the market traders. Many of the traders have barely 'taken' enough money to pay the rent since the market opened, let alone make any profit. A return to full rents right now I've been told could result in a mass exodus from the market, therefore this decision needs careful consideration otherwise there'll be a lot less rent to collect! The Traders are due to renew their contracts shortly as well.

As The Mayor Dorothy Thornhill said in her interview with me (you can watch hers and all other candidates interviews here) there was speculation about the impact of moving the market to the new location, but that this had been grossly underestimated. In effect what we have is a brand new market, a brand new proposition, and it has to be rebuilt from the ground up.

To date the Traders have born the brunt of financing the low footfall and the deficit of income from the move. It is normal as I understand it for rents to be charged at 1/2 rates during the hard winter months so this is not something the council or Town & Country have done out of the goodness of their hearts to help the traders, this is typical on most markets.

What can be done then? The bottom line is that these traders had decent businesses in the old location. They have accommodated the change to what is ostensibly an outside market, in many cases they now have smaller units too. They have operated through the challenging winter months and most have stuck it out. They have switched to operating 5 days as opposed to 3 in the old market, the net effect of which is to spread the equivalent revenue (although this has been down as much as 60% in the new location)... but... Incur 2 additional days operating costs, especially where staff are involved. This has further eroded profits.

It seems rather brutal to ask the traders to take the brunt of the costs for rebuilding the New Market when there are 3 partners in this project. If the rents are put back to full weekly rents I can see just a handful of stall holders remaining. It's not like there is a huge waiting list for people wishing to occupy vacant units either, some of them have been vacant now for 3-5 months.

If we are not to witness a mass exodus from the new market and perhaps a return to the street market of old where the daily stalls are now, then some serious decisions need to be taken.

Personally I would suggest a return to a 3 day market Tuesday, Friday and Saturday for the moment, this is supported by most if not all traders, reducing their costs and increasing business on the days open... Exception to this might be the food court during the summer months perhaps. A waiving of the rents for a period of 6 months to get the traders positive and supportive of growing the market and rebuilding the badly damaged bridges between them, Town & Country and the council. A proper 'New Market working team' needs putting in place too, one that meets regularly (bi-weekly) to get the long list of much needed deliverables delivered and to do some effective marketing.

Everyone has to take some responsibility for what has happened, not expect the market traders to solely continue funding it through their losses. I think Town & Country need to look long and hard at the idea of raising the 'rents' and if money is tight then the council will have to look at reducing their revenue expectations too.

Positive final words...

With the warmer months approaching and events scheduled to bring people into the Market there is a real opportunity by working together to build strongly during the spring, summer and autumn months. Francis (Candelit Wishes) and Mina (Shona Boutique) along with Sweetie Sue did a great job with the Mother's Day event. There was an Italian Market yesterday and we've also got an animal petting zoo event coming up around Easter plus further events scheduled during the coming months (check the New Watford Market website here)

What we need now is a period of focus on rebuilding not 'rent collecting'. With a fully supported New Market project in place, a Market Team to ensure things get done, and with everyone working together to create a real destination for visitors to Watford, this can be turned around. Before that though... some tough decisions need to be taken, and they need to be taken this week coming...

For those interested in attending (would be a great opportunity for those standing for office to get along too) there is a meeting at the New Watford Market with all the traders this Tuesday evening 5pm, 24th March upstairs... This could be 'D' Day for the Market...

** Credits for photographs +Diane Richardson and +Chris Ogle 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Watford BID meeting 3rd March 2015

The Watford BID meeting open to all businesses in the high street kicked off earlier in the month on the 3rd March at 6pm. The meeting was arranged to communicate what had happened so far with the Watford BID, to give more details on what a BID is, outline the process involved and include as many of the businesses as possible in the project.

So what is a BID? BID stands for Business Improvement District and in the case of Watford's BID it is the Watford High Street. Some 500 businesses are based in the 'zone' of the BID and it is these businesses who will be responsible for deciding whether Watford's BID actually happens or not.

There were a number of presentations on the night, which was hosted by Jonathan Field MD of John Lewis located in the Intu centre. A fair number of businesses were represented although sadly very few of the smaller high street stores, one of the exceptions being Situl's Gift shop (40 years in Watford). The +Watford Market was not represented at all just as an observation.

One of the presentations was from the BID organisation of the UK who are involved in helping towns with creating a BID. What is the procedure, rules and regulations and how to go from a-z. Interestingly BIDS have been around now since 2004 I believe. 200 have been created so far. 85% of the BID's that get through to the vote are successful... 93% of those that  run the term of 5 years and then re-apply are successful. I'm not sure how many BID's start and don't get to the vote... nor how many do not re-apply for a second 5 year term. Clearly though there is good coming from these BID projects across the UK.

So what actually happens with a BID? How are they funded and what can they realistically achieve? BID's are essentially set up to undertake projects (funded by the businesses supporting it) that will enhance the vibrancy of the High Streets and in the case of Watford this is exactly what it is for. These are typically projects that they Council would not have the money for, or not be interested in undertaking. So a real opportunity for a bit of self determination at least for the high street businesses. This is the important bit though. The money to do these projects is collected from participating businesses as a percentage of their premises rateable value. So the bigger the business, the more they pay. Where the rateable value is under £10k the business can still participate but is not expected to contribute financially. The percentage of the rateable value was 1%, so with a £20k rateable value this would equate to a £200 contribution.

To actually 'win a BID' it has to go to a vote. There are two votes. (1) is a single vote per business.. and (2) is a weighted ballot (by rateable value of the premises). Both of the votes have to return a greater than 50% in favour for the BID to go ahead. Once this has happened then a Limited company is formed to operate the BID projects, manage finances, measure effectiveness and report transparently the dealings of the BID.

The whole BID process timeline is a long drawn out affair... things have been happening since the back end of 2013... we are now at the stage of discussions, contributions and ideas for what the BID could be delivering for the High Street...  A grant has been secured to fund the stage of successfully completing the BID process... from then on in it is the BID money that will fund it. 20% of the BID money in the early stages will be consumed by admin and overheads... it is expected that if successful the BID will go live from 2017.

The Town Centre Manager (Marion) and her assistant created a number of boards (pictures shown) to help illustrate what is now required to move things forward... now it is down to those in the High Street to make their contributions and voices heard. Any ideas that you have please do get in contact with the Town Centre Partnerships, the Town centre manager or +Kate Leach of Watford For You.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Link4Curry at The Curry Club

Friday 13th March saw the 3rd #Link4Curry in +Link4Growth SW Herts and this time we visited the Langley Rooms for their Curry Club. The Curry Club started in February 2015 and is a great way to spend a Friday evening with friends or family over some lovely and different Indian food.

From 6pm onwards, adults pay £14.99 for a very generous selection of starters, main courses, sides and desserts with the ability to have as little or as much as you like. To the right is the menu and you can see they have a wide variety of dishes ranging from the traditional to some you may not be aware of.

Drinks are not included but with a good selection and a cocktail happy hour between 6 and 7, there are very few excuses for not trying the Curry Club. As well as the dishes that were generously spiced, they offer a mild selection for those who prefer something less hot.

For me, 3 particular dishes are reasons to visit and to return again and again. Among the more traditional starters was a dish called Masala Mogo (Spiced Cavassa). I previously had cassava in a Brazilian restaurant where it was deep fried and served instead of potatoes. Here, it was cooked in a fragrant curry sauce and with a sweet taste, was a great dish to try as a starter. For main,  I was drawn to Palak Gosht (mutton and spinach curry). Again, the dish worked really well with the right amount of spice, not too hot but enough to get your taste buds working. Finally, I saw tempted by a chocolate samosa which was something I had never tried before. The filo pastry was filled with a chocolate and nut filling and being just bite-sized, it was the perfect way to end the meal.

As well as the food, the staff were very attentive and make sure you have a great experience. They take your money for food when you arrive so you can relax during the night knowing you have paid. They also run a loyalty scheme, where you get a free meal after a certain number of visits. If Fridays are not good for you, they will be opening their doors on Saturdays from the 16th April. 

Without speaking for the rest of the group, I can highly recommend the Curry Club. With the ability to try dishes that you may not normally get in an Indian restaurant, the Curry Club will provide a great alternative to your local. A takeaway option is also available. If you want to contact them, check out their website  or follow them on Twitter @curryclubnews. 

Estcourt Arms: A Review by

Here is a blog written by Laura Rose (@roseandweston.) about the Estcourt Arms in Watford. Do give it a read but from my take, its sounds like it will be worth a visit. After that check out their website  and let us know in the Buy Local community what you think

Read the full blog here...

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

New PayItForward Coffee Outlet in Watford... Reason Coffee Shop & Bookstore

#PayItForwardCoffee or #SuspendedCoffee has come to #Watford in the brand new independent coffee shop +Reason ..... Proprietor +Neal Emery has now deployed a chalk board to record coffees that people have bought in advance so that the homeless or those having a difficult time have a place to get a hot drink. Inspired by a regular at the Coffee Shop +Tania Clarke this trend of supporting local people through kindness is beginning to gather momentum and Neal (owner) is delighted to be able to play his part and enable others in the community to support those in need.

Reason is engaging with local community groups bringing people together and providing a community space for engagement and participation. Do go and pay a visit... the coffee shop is also a bookstore full of interesting and educational material for personal development and evidence learning. 116 The Parade, Watford High Street.

More info can be found on this link...

There are Facebook groups supporting this initiative... PayItForwardCoffee and SuspendedCoffees

Monday, 9 March 2015

A new perspective on Work & Happiness from Bushey's Alex Murray

This is a very interesting Blog from local community member +Alex Murray. I've known Alex since the back end of 2013 and I think we could say that we have both been on a journey...

Alex represents the future and it is very interesting to hear his views about happiness... following your passions... doing what you want to do rather than blindly following paths that have gone before... If our young people all went through this kind of journey the future would be in very good hands indeed... +Tania Clarke +Neal Emery #Link4Growth #L4G

Anyone wanting to meet up with Alex can find him at one of the many Link4Growth events in the SW Herts area, or on the +Watford Market on Saturday mornings in Ell's Kitchen.

Read the full blog right here...

Runaway Train: At £300m is Croxley Rail Fiasco [still] Value for Money?

In their latest blog, +Save Watford Met . discusses whether the Croxley Rail Link is still value for money when the latest figures suggest that it will cost £300m to finish when the initial costs was £114m.