Improving Watford through arts, culture and fun

This weekend sees the start of the seventh Imagine Watford festival, consisting of free outdoor dance and theatre performances by an impressive array of British and international artistes and groups.

The festiva is part of a long-term vision of Mayor Dorothy Thornhill and Liberal Democrat councillors to use arts and culture to promote the regeneration of Watford town centre and make it a more enjoyable place to visit.

This has centred on an area of the High Street that had become primarily for the evening economy (a euphemism for bars and nightclubs). While successful enough of itself, the area had gained an unwanted reputation for late-night anti-social behaviour, while struggling to find a daytime role.

That is why Dorothy promoted the idea of a family-friendly town centre – as somewhere not just for shopping at one end and clubbing at the other, but as a place for cultural and social activity. We carried out a major environmental improvement scheme, which included creating a space where arts and community events can take place. As television retail guru Mary Portas, who grew up in Watford, commented at an event to mark the completion of the scheme:

High streets aren’t just about shopping, they’re about encouraging us to engage in where we live. We can never underestimate what the high street means to us.

Alongside that, we launched our Big Events programme of which Imagine Watford is part. It includes an urban beach and outdoor film screenings during the summer holidays, ice skating over the Christmas period. Other events, including a variety of music performances, are held at nearby Cassiobury Park, itself subject of a major lottery-funded restoration scheme, These events are enjoyed by thousands of local people, helping to create a sense of pride and wellbeing as well as offering people access new cultural experiences, and providing a chance for people from Watford’s diverse communities to come together. 

It is always great to see people of all ages to watch world-class street theatre in Watford town centre. But there is a wider purpose to all this in creating a greater sense of wellbeing and pride in the town, promoting community cohesion, and improving the local economy.

It complements other steps we have taken to keep our town successful. By working with partner organisations, Watford’s Liberal Democrat administration has been instrumental in establishing a Business Improvement District in the town centre, which enhanced the town centre’s appearance through activities from extra street cleaning to floral displays. Watford has also repeatedly achieved the national ‘Purple Flag’ status for a well-managed evening economy.

In these straightened times for local government, it is tempting to cut back on activities that are not statutory services. But councils do have a role also in promoting economic health, fostering a sense of community and making sure that the places we represent are ones that people want to live and work in and visit. Watford’s Liberal Democrat administration shows how this can be done.

Do come and see events at the Imagine Watford Festival which runs from 24–25 June and 30 June–2 July. Details are available here. Check out especially next Friday evening’s spectacular circus show by French company Deus ex Machina.

* Iain Sharpe has been a Liberal Democrat councillor in Watford since 1991. To read more about the history of the Liberal Democrats in Watford, see Winning the Watford Way, published by the Local Government Association Liberal Democrat Group.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Jun '17 - 8:46pm

    As a professional in the arts can I say, Iain, this is marvellous, and you and your colleagues and particularly Dorothy, Baroness Thornhill are doing terrific things.

    I am developing a project combining my work in the arts with my involvement in politics, for the party to gain from, I shall be in touch when it is ready to be shared very soon. You any many I think, in the party shall be interested . It has been a long time in fruition , while I have concentrated on other things , I nonetheless have not neglected it.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Jun '17 - 8:58am

    ” Watford at number 48 on Tim Farron’s list of seats he’d like to target.”
    Our first house was in North Watford, chosen for a combination of travel time to Euston (20 minutes) and affordable house prices on a maximum mortgage that the building society cartel would allow. There was a Waitrose which sold fresh limes and a branch of John Lewis called Trewin’s, ‘never knowingly undersold’ meant something in those days. There was an elderly Labour MP fighting “just one more” general election, which he won on name recognition. We were canvassed by the Tory and Liberal candidates as well. There was another general election in the autumn.

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