As Architects in Bedford, we are always looking for opportunities to help our hometown.
Like most town centres, Bedford has been badly affected by COVID-19. You only have to look at the number of empty shops on Silver Street or High Street to know there is a problem.
As a community, we need to look for opportunities to come together once we are beyond this third lockdown; to help our town get back on its feet. We need to attract visitors back onto our high street and to use all of our fantastic facilities – the parks, shopping centres, leisure facilities and of course the pubs and restaurants.
All of them are going to need our support over the coming months and years.
Architecture is not just about buildings; it’s about placemaking and creating spaces people want to spend time in, to enjoy. It is not usually a quick process. Very often, it’s the opposite of quick. Think about the car park at the top of the high street, which has been in development since 2007. We need something more immediate. Something to get the local economy revving again.
To that end, here are a handful of ideas we would like to throw out to Bedford, to its businesses, councillors and community leaders.
Ideas that might start a conversation about how we can revive our town centre. They’re just ideas, though. We really want everyone to #getbehindbedford as we swing back to life after the pandemic.
Please add your comments below or share this post with your friends and family. Let’s get some ideas flowing and encourage the powers that be to get things moving. Most of these ideas can be held at a social distance because they’re all outdoor; sadly, we will have to consider this for a while yet.
1. Outdoor Theatre
Set up an outdoor theatre in Russell Park during the summer months. There are lots of example of successful outdoor performances, such as New York’s Shakespeare in the Park, or closer to home, the Ampthill Festival and Park Proms.
2. Bedford Music Festival
Combine Bedford’s fantastic River Festival with a music festival to be held at Priory Park. Put on a free or subsidised shuttle bus service between the Town and the Park.
3. Flower and Vegetable Show
Set up a Bedford Flower and Vegetable Show to run in Bedford Park. Let’s celebrate the best of Bedfordshire’s agriculture and amateur producers, and encourage people back to this end of town.
4. Giant Outdoor Screen for Wimbledon and the Olympics
A giant screen by the Harpur Suite with relaxed seating for people to watch these two giants of the sporting calendar. Here’s an example of how this might look from London:
5. Celebrate Local Artists
Create an annual outdoor art fair for sculpturers from across Bedfordshire to show off their art around the town. It could be like the Elephant Parade in London, or Leicester’s internal street art festival. Here are some examples of where this has worked from around the UK.
Or perhaps an outdoor photography exhibition from Yann Arthus-Bertrand
6. Artwork Projections
Show off our local artists and buildings with some artwork projects to bring art into Bedford’s public spaces. Here’s what has been done in Leeds:
Enjoying the River:
7. River Light Show
Light up the River Great Ouse in the evenings, with special light or lazer shows… ‘Peruse the Ouse’ if you will.
8. River Taxi
Set up a free or subsidised river taxi from the Swann Hotel to Priory Park Marina to get people moving around between the different areas.
9. Bedford Bike Pride
Organise a bike ride through Bedford for all ages and abilities. I’m sure we are not the only ones that need to be a bit more active after lockdown has ended. See what has been done in Detroit with its Slow Roll:
10. Outdoor Ice Skating
Outdoor ice skating is always popular, just take a look at what Somerset House and the Natural History Museum are able to do each Christmas. Maybe we can encourage people to stay and play in Bedford instead of going into London.
11. BMX and Skate Competition
There are skate parks all over Bedfordshire that are a big draw for all age groups. How about creating a Bedford Skate and BMX competition to run in Priority Park?
12. The Bedford Triathlon Festival
We could broaden the scope of the Bedford Running Festival by adding in a Triathlon event to take advantage of Priory Lake.
Triathlon has enjoyed significant growth in Britain in recent years. The British Triathlon website reports:
In 2019 there were around 150,000 committed active racing triathletes in the UK (Triathlon Industry Association). Other people do triathlon as a ‘bucket list’ activity. Sport England believe that about that 215,000 people in England did at least one triathlon in the last year.
There you have it, 12 ideas to get the conversations started and start to #getbehindbedford as we pull out of the Panedmic.
It’s probably too late to organise any of these for 2021. But, next year, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. It is going to take a while to bring our High Street’s back to life, so let’s start working on it now.
Now getting back to what Architects are more commonly known for we do have a suggestion for a building project too.
13. Create a Landmark Space for the Creative Arts
The Town centre would benefit from a big tourist destination, which could be achieved through a new building project, or the conversion of an existing building. The Shire Hall – the magistrates and county court building – presents a very interesting opportunity to create something of long term value to Bedford.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.