It would be easy to assume, walking down Redhill High Street that the entire town is being rebuilt. The works are noisy and unsightly, and a look across the building site to the old Liquid and Envy site does little to dispel the image. But raise your eyes to the glistening glass now revealed as adorning the new building and a little hope is restored: from a site previously abandoned by both businesses and developers comes a thing of beauty, something to brighten any town. Turn back to the High Street and sights of equally mixed messages greet your eyes.
Resilient shops and shoppers try their best to negotiate a terrain that is both familiar and entirely different. The lady in Wilco’s talks me through how to use their new self-checkout system. We both know it would be easier for her to do it, but that’s not where we are now. Someone asks her if she finds herself repeating the instructions in her sleep, “Don’t get me started…” she laughs.
I can’t get into Poundland, the queues are too long, I don’t have time. Queuing is something we are adjusting to, though. To enter Sainsbury’s once I took a book, read for 20 minutes in the sunshine and by the time I reached the front of the queue there were so few people inside that I was out again in five minutes. I left thinking it was an entirely more pleasant way to shop. The usual Saturday morning crush would have taken the same time but left me a few chapters still to go. So, we are finding ways to make this work for us.
As I round the corner I see with delight that Guild Members, The Junction, are open for take-aways until Saturday 4th July when they open for limited numbers. “This is not the time or place for celebration,” said the notice, a sombre sign of the times. It is, however, as they are showing, a time for work, for optimism, for invention.
Local historian John Capon tells us one of the contributing factors to Redhill existing at all was one of the Kings who had a mistress in Brighton. Attempting to control this moral outrage, the Government passed a law prohibiting him from going more than 50 miles from the City. To this his Majesty sat with a cartographer and worked out that by taking a slightly different route he could keep the journey within the law. Which is how the A23 came to replace the A217 as the main road between the two cities; the railway, when it came, also followed the shorter route.
It says something to me about Redhill as a place for people who can see opportunities where they don’t yet exist. And listening to Guild members, many of them have stories that echo the King’s initiative, if not his liberality, at least. This, one feels, is the kind of thinking we need now. And while endless discussion and formality can bog down creativity, being with people of a similar outlook can be exhilarating. To this end, and with apologies for the delay, we are holding a Zoom meeting for members and friends on Wednesday 15th July at 17:30. Please join us. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RedhillGuild and we will send you a link. Let us hear your challenges and initiatives, and let us forge the new normal together.