Conference maps out way forward for tackling some of city’s challenges

October 31 2018
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A DAY-LONG conference in the Town Hall to discuss the future of Wells has produced a list of action points to improve life in the city and drive its development forward.

Nearly 100 people from businesses, councils, schools, organisations and venues across the city took part in the Wake Up Wells Stakeholder Conference on October 7.

They listened to speakers including Dean of Wells the Very Rev Dr John Davies, and joint managing director of the Iceland food chain Richard Walker, and discussed topics in group sessions that ranged from infrastructure and young people to entertainment and sport.

“I wanted to start a conversation and that is what is happening in this room today, an exciting collaborative project. We in this room are the change-makers,” said Kirstie Harris – one of the co-leaders of Wake Up Wells along with Emma Lefevre – in her introduction to delegates.

Ann Whalley discussed the findings of the Wake Up Wells questionnaire, which more than 600 people completed.

She said that there was “an incredible amount of positive feedback”, with people praising the heritage of Wells, the architecture, the food and drink, the culture and the real sense of community.

High rent and rates, parking and public transport were among issues regarded as problematic, while younger people expressed a desire for more variety and excitement.

Naomi Griffith, one of the directors of Onion Collective, a regeneration company based in Watchet, described what is being done there to improve an area with the lowest social mobility in the country, and the obstacles they have had to overcome.

“We’re part of making Watchet great again but we’ve learnt that we need to work in partnership with people,” she said.

“It’s about constantly asking and constantly listening,” she added.

The Dean of Wells said that Wells Cathedral is keen to work with others for the benefit of the community. He said that it was already moving towards a partnership with The Bishop’s Palace and Wells & Mendip Museum to draw more people to Wells that, while recognising the challenges for infrastructure, would have a positive impact on the city.

“The Cathedral has all sorts of things to offer and we are very keen to work in partnership with you all,” he said.

Richard Walker said that Iceland had grown from one store in Oswestry in the 1970s, where his mother came up with the Iceland name while working on the checkout, to more than 950 stores today – though he ruled out opening a store in Wells because the city is too small and does not fit in with the company’s usual demographic.

He said that the company had a strong track record in challenging expectations and effecting positive change, and had led the way in going GM free, in taking CFCs out of refrigeration and in removing plastic packaging.

His lessons for Wake Up Wells were that problems can only be solved by working together, and that innovation and doing things differently were necessary to break up the status quo.

Outcomes of the break-out sessions included investigating whether business car parks can be shared to ease parking problems; engaging with young people about the issue of drugs; initiating a hub to connect organisations with each other and with potential volunteers; improving the marketing of Wells to a wider audience (“Wells is a world heritage site without the status. We need to shout about that,” said Jonathan Sawyer of The Bishop’s Palace); and looking at whether the market can be enlarged or whether there can be pop-up markets on different days.

“I think today has been utterly amazing,” said Emma Lefevre in summing up.

“We have just scratched the surface of some very big issues and it’s clear that we need more discussion going forward.”

The next Wake Up Wells event is a community day that will take place in the Cathedral on January 26, 2019.