Guild meeting: Wednesday 23 February

There was a distinct excitement in the air at our last meeting on 23 February. But it wasn’t the pleasure of being able to meet maskless again, nor the drama caused by the fact the Memorial Park was overrun with police officers (we try not to get too awed by these things – whatever happens in Redhill, we certainly seem capable of a robust police response to it). No. It was the announcement of the Marketfield Way development, The Rise, the much anticipated cinema and leisure complex. 

Peter Boarder, who has patiently and persistently guided the project for the Council, was there to give the latest news. The six-screen cinema and nine-lane bowling complex which take up much of the floorspace will be operated by The Light. This company was founded in 2007 by two cinema operators, one of whom was involved in setting up Cineworld Crawley and has local as well as trade experience. They have 11 venues across the country but are a growing brand with very forward thinking attitudes who were willing to engage in the process even in the middle of the pandemic. More than just a cinema operator, they proved a whole entertainment and leisure experience. It was important to secure the cinema operator first as they will be taking up 35,000 square feet on the ground and first floor, on a 26 year lease. Their nearest similar venture is the very successful operation in Sittingbourne, Kent, and Peter recommends looking at the website to get a feel for what might happen, but emphasised that one the things that made them attractive was a willingness to give Redhill its own distinct identity, not just provide a carbon copy of what is happening elsewhere. The  auditoriums will aim to provide a premium environment at standard prices. The bowling lanes will serve food and beverages, and be available for private hire for companies looking to provide hospitality for clients. 

In addition to the Light, the residential space of 150 boutique flats will be Let by the unique quality that Kooky provides. Their long experience, creative design and streamlined  processes, along with the access to the station and the leisure facilities, will ensure these properties will never be long on the market. 

And did we mention Tesco’s will have a shop on the northern side, facing the station? This, and a diner and bar with a 110 cover restaurant. And a Retro Arcade with Segadrive, air hockey, Terminator and other games (which – I might add – a Grandfather like me is somewhat startled to hear described as retro!). 

It has been important that the front is visible from the station and eye-catching from the Marketfield Road and a lot of thought has gone into making it so through the development of The Portal, a backlit area designed to give information and appeal. 

The Light and Tescos will take 50% of available floor space and the Council is now looking to fill 5 commercial units on the ground floor and 2 on the first floor. The formal launch of development has already generated interest from trade publications. So discussions are underway and they are hoping for a mix of big names and small local names. It is possible a gym may be among them. 

In between the two buildings, the Gallery is a walkway where people can come TO,  not just THROUGH. There will be some al fresco eating, but not much as space is limited. But the light will have bifold doors to enable seamless transition between the two spaces. And it will need the space as it is projected The Rise will be visited by 410,000 visitors per year. One concerned member asked if the Harlequin would lose trade for it. Fortunately we had Harlequin staff on hand to assure us that they do not see this as competition at all, but welcome the investment into a night time economy for the town. 

On a practical note, it is hoped that completion of the building will be in August to September this year. Units will then have a six month fit out period and the Cinema should be ready by Easter next year. Similarly, the residential units will be available from later next year. It is possible some other smaller units may be ready before Easter next year. But in summary, it will be a phased opening over a period of time.

With the patient weariness of a man who can’t mention The Rise without being asked about it, Peter assured us that there is sufficient parking in the town. Andy Nash announced that the Belfry is looking to provide evening car parking for the Rise. Although details are still being finalised, as Andy pointed out, it is in no one’s interest not to come to a successful agreement. But Peter mentioned there are 2,000 parking spaces in town and council parking is free after 6pm. It was flagged up that more EV charging points will be required. There won’t be free parking during the day but it will not be expensive and there is the possibility of a ticket validation scheme to obtain refunds on tickets for parking. 

In conclusion, The Rise is about positivity. It is about looking onward and looking up. Given that most of it has gone on during a global pandemic it is an astonishing achievement that it is still on track. Peter assured us it has been a remarkably fairly painless construction. Said, I might observe, with the quiet ease of one speaking after the final bell rather than before it, and we are grateful to him for his endeavours. As events unfolding in the Memorial Park reminded us (the police were still there as we left), it is not a panacea to make living in Redhill a paradise. But for the vast majority, who enjoy living in Redhill, it will be a very welcome asset, and for those working and doing business in Redhill it will make it even more attractive. 

After all this the only other business was Geoffrey Dennis from the Include charity. With all the enthusiasm about the building, it was a brave thing to take people’s attention onto other things, but Geoffrey has worked for the Red Cross in North Korea and is more than capable of holding his own. His main point was to thank the Guild. After a presentation before Christmas he said that the money their appeal raised was more than double what it had been the previous year. We are proud to have been a small part of that and to have the local charity in our membership.

And it does reflect the broad scope of the Guild. We were pleased also to have Cllr Sindon from the Green party; and for the first time, Steve Kulka, a Lib Dem councillor; with apologies from the Conservtaive and long-term friend, Cllr Rich. A diverse group with a wide range of interests and pursuits with one common goal: to enhance Redhill as a place to live, work and do business. It was great to see some new faces among us. Please make the Guild known and invite others to join us. As Peter said, “Together we can!” Oh… now I think of it, he’s a clever chap, but that may have been someone else…