Last night I went to my first meeting with the Camden Rd Guild. This was initiated off the back of an opportunity to be a Portas pilot - stemming from the Portas review published last year. Regardless of whether the Portas bid is successful (I hope it is!) I was excited by the desire, commitment and opportunity to regenerate a vibrant and unique part of Tunbridge Wells. Set amongst the back drop of tough recent economic times, Camden Road has suffered like many places with a spate of empty shops and general degradation. A snapshot or a quick drive by might reveal nothing particlarly interesting. However behind Camden Rd is a strong willed community spirit and a closer look at the road reveals a unique and vibrant road of independent shops and businesses with a distinctive core. How many destinations are left in the country’s towns where on the one road you can shop for antiques, buy a newspaper, eat at a Cafe’, get a Tattoo, visit a mosque, get your bike puncture fixed, get a personalised T-shirt printed, buy a house, alter clothing, re-upholster your favourite furniture, buy a an old LP, get a key cut, eat at a restaurant, have your haircut, buy a knitting pattern or drink a beer in your local Pub with the local Choir singing in the corner.
So from this meeting I could see an old friend that wishes to be reaquinted, a plant brought back to life that was lacking a little water. A new community centre, a monthly market, bridges built between cultures, a charter to promote the regeneration, and a chance to forge and prosper as one against tough times and the shopping centres and industrial parks that dominate the landscape. And who really wants that except big corporations, I mean here is a chance to promote community values and integration. Visit your green grocer, sit and read a paper at your local cafe’ before picking up your new keys, then purchasing a new but old vase from one of the local antique stores or some art from the local gallery. Sit on a park bench, meet and chat with your neighbours, people from your community, sounds idealist but go to Spain or Italy, these values still hold true. This is an opportunity to embrace a vibrant road and the community around it rather than marginalise it and let it fade away.
One of the major focuses of the regeneration is to bring people to Camden Rd, celebrate its unique aspects, and gain some lost prosperity. One of the obstacles to this I thought after I left the meeting and was the state of the pedestrian crossing that links the upper and lower parts of Camden Rd. It’s an ugly physical barrier with long delays between changing traffic lights and Im sure hinders free flowing footfall. If you cross Nevill St into the Pantiles from the old High St you never wait longer than a minute and it really is as seamless a road crossing as Ive come across. It’s the polar opposite at the Camden Rd/Garden Rd junction and this needs to be addressed. Ideally wider pavements and a one way road would help to but maybe this is asking too much. There is some really determined minds amongst the Camden Rd traders and it makes me think anything is possible. Exciting times for this unheralded part of Royal Tunbridge Wells.
The Black Dog is proud to be a resident of Camden Rd as we feel our Cafe’ represents in unison all the great aspects the road has to offer. We make sure our customers feel welcome, seeking to create a vibrant atmosphere but relaxed too like a living room. I love it when a customer feels comfortable enough to sit on their own reading a book or equally when a customer comes in and recognises fellow colleagues, neighbours or friends. Sometimes customers link up and join tables sharing experiences and news and thats community not the colourless, unfriendly and mundane facade of most high st’s and their offerings. Go Camden Rd Guild!