Cranleigh Chamber of Commerce held a virtual version of its Annual General Meeting this week.
Chamber president Rosemary French OBE delivered her report, reviewing a year of two halves – before Covid-19 and after Covid-19.
The first part of her report reflected on another year of events, lobbying, influencing, partnering and collaborating.
The year started with the Cranleigh Chamber of Commerce AGM at Cranleigh Golf & Country Club, with guest speaker John James of Soho Estates.
Cranleigh Chamber of Commerce’s Spring into Cranleigh Event last April, in collaboration with Cranleigh in Bloom, saw a successful World Record attempt for the largest display of painted pebbles, with 3,646 painted pebbles displayed in Fountain Square.
Following feedback from members, the Chamber reduced its number of networking events, with each meeting attracting a higher attendance. Continuing to support local hospitality businesses, the Chamber hosted events at The Stables Restaurant, The Richard Onslow, ONE 40, Wild & Green, and Cromwell Coffee House.
As ever, raising sufficient funds to pay for the Cranleigh Christmas Lights was a struggle for Cranleigh Chamber of Commerce last year.
The herculean efforts of the Christmas Lights committee, led by Roger Coupe, and the generosity of Hans Christmas Andersen at Santa Fir, meant targets were achieved and a fantastic lights display delivered for the village.
Lobbying and influencing on behalf of members is a key role for Cranleigh Chamber of Commerce. In the past year, the Chamber worked hard to improve car parking charges in Cranleigh, with this campaign led by committee member Bob Bayley.
Bob lobbied hard on behalf of lower-paid High Street workers, who cannot afford to park in the council-controlled car parks.
With Waverley Borough Council figures showing that 95% of car park users park for less than three hours, and that the car parks are never more than 55% full on average, a strong case for capping the daily charge at three hours was presented.
Waverley Borough Council decided to cap charges at £4 for the day, rather than the £2.40 proposed by Cranleigh Chamber of Commerce; a step in the right direction, making a day of parking in Cranleigh more affordable.
Cranleigh Chamber continued to lobby for an upgrade to the Downs Link surface, for all-weather use. The Downs Link corridor assessment commissioned from Sustrans was widely circulated to various interested bodies, and could come of age now with the government’s renewed focus on cycling.
The Chamber lobbied Waverley Borough Council to provide financial support to create a Business Improvement District (BID) in Cranleigh, which was agree but then placed on hold when the Covid-19 pandemic started.
Other lobbying activity included conversations with Surrey County Council about High Street improvements, to make it a safer and more enjoyable environment for pedestrians and cyclists.
The Chamber met with newly elected MP Angela Richardson within a month of her taking up her seat in the House of Commons, discussing crime and policing issues in Cranleigh, and upgrading the Downs Link surface.
Cranleigh Chamber of Commerce regularly meets with Waverley Borough Council and Cranleigh Parish Council, as well as collaborating with Farnham, Godalming and Haslemere Chambers of Commerce.
When there was further criminal behaviour in Cranleigh, including vandalism and ball-bearing attacks on shop premises, the Chamber voiced its anger to Surrey Police about a lack of presence and action.
The Chamber has been pursuing CCTV for the High Street for some time, but the cost remains prohibitive.
Cranleigh Chamber of Commerce worked with SMART Cranleigh, helping to fund their Slow Shopping scheme.
The Chamber continues to support Cranleigh in Bloom, which had a string of success at the regional South & South East in Bloom Awards, and also reached the finals of the national RHS Britain in Bloom Awards for the first time.
On mobile phone coverage, the Chamber met with former MP Anne Milton, along with the main network providers, to agree on a plan of action.
When the Covid-19 pandemic started, the Chamber’s priorities for the year ahead changed overnight.
The Cranleigh Business Show, Spring into Cranleigh event with large French market, networking events, Waverley-wide business question time event, and BIG Awards were all cancelled due to the pandemic.
The focus for the Chamber switched immediately to action, helping all local businesses identify and apply for government grant funding.
The Chamber heavily promoted the small business grants and loan schemes, trying to reach as many eligible local businesses as possible.
Those retailers that remained open throughout the crisis carried out an amazing service with innovative methods to reach vulnerable customers.
Non-essential shops reopened on 15th June, and the Chamber quickly realised that no social distancing guidance was in place for Cranleigh High Street. Working with Cranleigh Parish Council, the Chamber implemented a temporary and voluntary pedestrian one-way system, which was well-received but largely ignored. Queuing guidance outside shops did however prove successful.
With the village still required to implement social distancing measures, Cranleigh Chamber of Commerce has successfully applied for local authority funding to pay for professional signage for the pavements and lampposts, which will be in place shortly.
Rosemary French commented that the High Street faces a crisis the likes of which has never been seen before.
If retailers cannot get sufficient footfall, they will close. If our restaurants, cafes and pubs cannot accommodate sufficient numbers of patrons, they will close. If online shopping continues its rapid growth, independent retailers will collapse.
Cranleigh High Street will need to change to survive, with a new model created by local business leaders.
Rosemary called for ambitious plans to ensure the survival of the High Street, with strategies that might include the creation of a nighttime economy and a unique offering.
Concluding her report, Rosemary explained that Cranleigh Chamber of Commerce has a responsibility to better understand how Cranleigh High Street needs to find a new sense of purpose, learning more and bringing the best ideas back to Cranleigh.