What does a vibrant town centre look like today and how does it successfully support the community needs of a small rural town such as Chipping Ongar?
After years of decline in demand for shops and alongside growth in on line retail, the High Street is diversifying. No longer is the town centre just a shopping area, but somewhere to meet, socialise and have shared experiences. There will always be a place for local quality independent fresh food shops and markets, but town centres and High Streets have been diversifying for some time to embrace this growing demand and reinventing themselves. Various reports have given examples of successful regenerated town centres, including in small towns that now include beauty and medical related outlets, gyms, activity centres such as climbing walls, bowling alleys, table tennis, children’s activities, workshops and so on. Places where local people can meet or just bump into each other. Government’s recent Planning Use Class changes have also eased the move from retail. Furthermore, changes to residential, including in unused upper floors and offices is bringing back life into town centres.
Relatively new businesses in Chipping Ongar are reflecting the new emphasis of a community hub. We now have more cafes, revamped pubs & restaurants, kidzone, pottery workshop, gym, various complementary health therapies, hair and beauty, professional services etc. to add to our longstanding fresh food offering and boutiques supported by the wider rural community.
There is the potential, which is recognised in Ongar’s Neighbourhood Plan and EFDC’s Economic Growth department to make our attractive historic Chipping Ongar town centre a more vibrant and economically viable town centre.
The town centre already has good community halls and meeting rooms, outdoor recreation fields and children’s playground and skatepark close by, which could be developed further. There are three long distance footpaths going through Chipping Ongar including The Essex Way. Where better place to stop for refreshment than Chipping Ongar? The civil parish of Ongar is steeped in history, including Ongar motte and bailey Castle, the oldest wooden church in the world at Greensted, over 100 listed buildings and an historic railway. It has links to world famous people of the past such as David Livingstone, Father Byles and Jane Taylor, which can be better promoted. Epping Ongar historic railway already attracts some 40,000 visitors annually. What potential for regeneration of our town centre!
By enhancing and building on our amenities and potential attractions, not only would our own community benefit but visitors would also boost the viability of local businesses by using our cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops. I have written about this before when we bid for money from Historic England. (Our bid was unsuccessful but commended). There are now several groups in Ongar working hard to make improvements and some government funding is now directed at Chipping Ongar High Street through EFDC and the district’s newly appointed Town Manager. Let’s together make it happen!
Chairman of Ongar Neighbourhood Plan Community Group firstname.lastname@example.org
Article published in August 2021 Ongar News