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What would you choose as a slogan for Redhill? This article has an idea

It has slogans for quite a few nearby Surrey towns. 

Caterham: retirement capital of Surrey. If that is true there’s been a huge change in the age demographic since it’s chief association was with the Army Barracks. 

Horley: You are entering Surrey. Yes, SURREY. Referencing the failed plot to get the town moved into West Sussex a few years ago. 

Dorking: Yes, it’s a giant cock, get over it. Nuff said. 

Reigate: More restaurants than you can shake a bread stick at. Actually, this works for me. I am not entirely sure how we got to the point where Redhill has virtually no eateries and Reigate has masses, but I like the idea of Reigate being Redhill’s canteen.

And for Redhill? The future’s bright, if we ever get there.

Now this I really can’t agree with. It is true that there are great plans for the town which are taking a long time to reach fruition. But that has always been true. When we moved to Redhill in 1987, the High Street was not pedestrianised, what is now the Belfry was a huge unpaved car park, the station was a wood-panelled Hobbit-hole with tiny serving windows and the Memorial Park was a flat piece of green with nothing in it. More recently, the hideous, confining railings around the station roundabout have gone; the Harlequin has had a facelift; Sainsbury’s has gone from low-ceilinged gloom to making a nod towards the Crystal Palace; and does anyone even remember the vague shop that occupied the slot before the inspirational West Central came to town? I don’t know about you, but I’m not waiting for Redhill to happen: it already is. 

So what would you say about Redhill? I was thinking about this when my sons invited me to join them watching a film called Thor: Ragnarok. In it, the residents of the doomed city repeatedly say, “Asgard is not a place, it’s a people.” And certainly, when I think of Redhill, I think of the people.

Let’s start with Paul, who runs Clippers Barbers in town. Our paths crossed outside the shop at a critical point once and we have been friends ever since. But I also know Dean who has the DM chain. And Damien, who owns the bike shop. Dan, who runs Pistachios cafe in the Park. Mark and the Connells team who sold us our house last year. And Tony, whose Ice Cream van parks so temptingly right outside our house in the hot weather. And Colin… who could forget Colin, who used to work at a local station. His cheery greetings and utterly honest station announcements could put strength into the most brow-beaten of commuters, such as the time we heard over the intercom: “The 07:15 train to Horsham has been delayed because it has been hit by a pigeon.” There was a brief pause, then he burst out laughing and asked, “Well, who’s going to believe that…?”

I can also look back. I wasn’t the only one gutted last year when the Cosham’s shut down Morton’s the Padlock. I remember a similar sadness when Newtons shut: anyone else remember that vast store of stationary and toys? Even further back, when we first moved here there was a fantastic florist shop on the corner opposite the station and McDonalds, next to the Abbot; run by the most cheerful man (and his son, I believe) you could ever ask to meet. Of course, now we have a new florist shop opened by Dean who has worked like a Trojan since taking over Holborn’s, Earlswood, from his parents and turned it into what must be one of the nicest corner shops in Britain. It was a shame for the residents of Earlswood when the colourful blooms outside the shop moved to the new premises, but no one begrudges them the success.

And finally, I think of the people I have met since joining the Guild. The Councillors, whose persistent hard work I had been woefully ignorant of for most of my time here. Andy Nash, whose relentless efforts to make the Belfry a place people want to visit seem to have endless reserves of creativity: anyone else visited the Ping Pong Parlour yet? Don’t miss it! Honestly: free table tennis is available in the High Street. Rosemary and Phil who also work in the Rotary for the good of the town. And I should mention our Chairman, Ian, whose work commitments sadly are requiring him to step down: anyone looking for a job? It’ll be a hard act to follow…

I could go on, but I have to stop somewhere, and it will be with John, our local historian and inspirational octogenarian, who for many years organised the Carols in the Belfry service and more recently began the initiative to mark 175 years of Redhill’s existence; yes, the town began that long ago when the station was built. Sadly John’s own involvement in this project was curtailed by ill health, but we wish him well and a speedy recovery. And the Belfry still has some of the 175 trees it wants to donate to mark the anniversary if you would like one.

So I think, if I was to write a slogan it would have to be, Redhill: The Friendship Town.

As a final example of this, I was quite impressed when visiting Galway, Ireland, earlier this year at how the street musicians affected the mood of the place. Feeling inspired, I took my guitar into Redhill High Street a few times over the summer and sang a few songs. Sure enough, it was good to see people smiling, swaying, children dancing. And believe me: I’m not that good, it’s the music that does it. In the end I was forced to stop though because no matter how many times I told people, “I’m not collecting, just singing for the fun of it,” they gave me money which made me concerned I would fall foul of busking laws. So I think it really is a friendly town.

But those of us who live here – who actually know what it is like – are appreciating that now, not waiting for the future.