Make sure the Budgens site is used to benefit Faringdon

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As our elected representatives, you will be well aware that many of Faringdon’s residents and business owners are very concerned about the decline in the Town Centre, especially with the loss of its banks and only supermarket.

We have some tremendous assets in the immediate vicinity of the town. The Folly and its woodland for a start. Considering that forty years ago the tower was bricked up, and is now open twice a month during the summer, no-one can deny that the Folly Trust have done an amazing job. People travel from all over Oxfordshire, and beyond, for an enjoyable Sunday afternoon. Their children play in the quirky woodland, they climb the tower, take in the spectacular views, read the information boards about the area and how the tower came to be built.

And yet.. very few of these visitors venture into Faringdon. Beyond having a pub lunch there’s nothing to keep them there. Nor is there very much to draw them back on the 340 or so days of the year when the Folly isn’t open.

Looking at neighbouring towns of roughly the same size, they mostly have some non-commercial feature to attract and hold visitors. Wantage has the Vale and Downland Museum and walks along Letcombe Brook. Lechlade has the Thames Path. You can walk along the Windrush at Witney and Burford when you’re tired of shopping.

Faringdon is lacking a natural (or even man-made) feature close to the town centre. The Folly? Yes, but it’s a good hike up there and not ideal for the casual visitor. Faringdon House, grounds and lake would be ideal, but sadly there’s not much chance of that in the foreseeable future.

About twenty-five years ago an opportunity arose for the District Council to purchase the house next to what is now Stay Grounded (then the TIC) and the outbuilding behind it which was an old print workshop built over the old route of Swan Lane, which once led to the Market Place. The plan was to convert this into a museum of Faringdon, with access through the TIC. Needless to say the plan was voted out but we did get a Sports Centre. Some would say that had a wider appeal than a museum, but it didn’t do a lot to bring visitors to the centre of town.

Now the staff of the present TIC in the Pump Rooms do a splendid job of promoting the town, but the building itself is far from ideal, with small display rooms and a choice between steep steps or an outdoor lift to gain access.

The closure of Budgens, leaving empty a vast area of floor space with street level access and a car park entrance, has now presented the town with another opportunity. Only a fraction of that space would be required to provide a first-class visitor centre / museum, a valuable resource for schools, and a focal point for anyone visiting the town, or resident in it. The rest of the floor area could form some kind of covered market, specialising in local produce or goods, and maybe a café or restaurant. The success of the Folly Trust and other ventures have shown that we are not short of volunteers in this town.

We are well aware that “there is no magic money tree” (to borrow a quote) but we do believe the time has come for our elected representatives to have sufficient faith in the self-evident community spirit and goodwill we have in Faringdon that they think creatively as to how to take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And that it is time to fight tooth and nail to plough OUR money – and that includes the S106 grants from housing developments – back into such a community asset which could be one possible way to give our town centre a much-needed boost.

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