Black Dog Cafe, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

a diverse and vibrant town..

In one of the national coffee publications this week was an article about the increasing protests against the big chains opening shops in town centre’s high streets. Petitions, independent business events, campaigns against particular chains and public meetings to voice concern over the future of our high st’s are happening across the country. I wonder whether this public response and protest is possible in Tunbridge Wells when there still seems to be general excitement to news of a chain’s possible opening. While the Portas Pilot for Camden Rd didnt come to fruition, there is still a great drive amongst the community to regenerate the street and I would like to think the independent retailers across the entire town will maintain a strong presence and ensure a diversity and vibrancy that chains en masse cannot replicate. 

In Melbourne where I lived, the local High St has a fishmonger, butcher, baker, patisseries, a florist, several fashion shops and many great places for coffee and brunch, several chains but the vast majority independent and the better for it. Diverse, vibrant, eclectic, colourful and supported by community and visitors who recognised the energy and explosion to the senses as they pound the pavements. You felt like you were somewhere not anywhere.

The chains offer safety and convenience, perfect for the human, but I hope the independents continue to create a presence in the town and that they are supported because the energy cant be matched by the chains, the enthusiasm and passion for their product or service and the connection with the customer, the relations built and the link to the importance of community which this town holds dear.

I dont want to bang on about Melbourne but in the coffee bar scene the chains have no high st presence at all. They closed as quickly as they opened as they  were just not supported. The customers demanded more than just average, and the benefit is a more interesting high st, a higher delivery of quality and a community that gets back what they put in. The chains obviously have their place but I’d just like to think Tunbridge Wells will avoid accepting a uniform and mundane landscape of big chains ahead of something a bit more engaging.

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