Businesses and council unite to halt decline in visitor numbers
A new town centre manager has promised to make Tunbridge Wells popular again after recent figures showed a sharp drop in visitors to the area.
Rachel Jenman is the new figurehead of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Together (RTWT) partnership, which is aiming to boost the viability of the town centre. The organisation is made up of local businesses and the borough council.
She began in the week that VisitKent revealed that footfall in the town’s Visitor Information Centre (VIC) fell by almost a third in June, compared to 12 months before.
Her key task is to increase the number of people – local and visitors – willing to shop and socialise in Tunbridge Wells.
Rachel, aged 40, told the Times: “Footfall is going down and people are spending less time here. They are not coming to town to get their shopping, they are spending less, so it’s how to get them to spend more and how to positively advertise and draw people into the town.
“Town centres now aren’t how they were ten to 15 years ago. They are social spaces. People want to meet and have a bit of leisure and love the atmosphere. Restaurants and cafes are the highest growth areas. Why not come down and do things [shopping] you need to do as well?”
“We want the group [RTWT] to be seen as a force in this area.”
In June this year, 2,084 people visited the VIC compared to 3,051 a year earlier.
The VIC is managed by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, which is seeking to increase hourly parking charges by 29 per cent to £1.80 – making it the highest in Kent.
A story about the new parking charges in the Times last week generated the biggest postbag ever [see letters] with readers unanimously against the plan.
While Rachel downplayed the significance of parking as a factor behind the drop in visitors, she suggested that a scheme currently being used in Medway, where parking is free after 2pm on a Friday, could ease the problem.
“If you ask anyone, parking will always be at the top of their concerns,” she said. “But it is not always about parking charges. It is about what you have to offer. It is about how you get into the town centre.
“Is it easy to park? Is it something I want to do? There are lots of things, not just shopping but leisure facilities. Is it attractive? Is it clean? Is it bright? Does it have something for children? It is all those things, not just the parking.
“High parking charges don’t help, but there are lots of things we can do.
There are ideas such as ‘alive after five’ for the nighttime economy or ‘free after two’.
A survey will go out to town centre businesses and Rachel will draw up her plans once the results have been returned and analysed.
RTWT member Gilbert Green, a Partner at Thomson Snell & Passmore, said: “RTWT provides a unique platform for the unified promotion of Royal Tunbridge Wells as the town of choice in West Kent for business, retail, leisure and living.
“It brings together the various sectors of the town, which up until now have acted on their own accord, so that the town is promoted and seen as a single vibrant entity.”
Rachel Jenman was born and raised in Chatham. She developed her management experience at Rentokil and in 2008 became Town Centre Development Manager for Strood. She went on to work for the Outer London Fund.
Rachel then became Town Centre Manager in Tiverton, Devon, before returning to Kent. RTWT has already signed up 23 businesses. In its first year it has a £120,000 budget. The group has 11 directors.
On September 14 there will be an open day for members of the public and businesses at the group’s base at 7 Ely
Court, Royal Victoria Place, from 8am to midday.