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FLYING THE FLAGS FOR RIPON

Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 10th July 2009
David Winpenny, Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, looks forward to a more colourful future for Ripon’s streets.

Booths supermarket is open at last. It seems to have been a long time in arriving, and there has, inevitably, been disruption and difficulty, dissatisfaction and even anger, during the construction period. No new development can satisfy everyone, and there will continue to be people who question the location, size, style and necessity of this one.

Whatever your point of view, Booths is here – and Ripon must seize the opportunity that it presents. The city should treat it as a vote of confidence – a vote taken, it is true, in different economic circumstances, but one that has not been reversed when the going got tougher.

There is no doubt that a new store like this will create its own impetus, attracting new customers from outside Ripon to come to the city. But how will the city react to this?

New visitors to Ripon, lured by a bright new shopping experience, will follow signs to Booths (more are to appear, we understand) and park in the new car park beside it. It is a problem that they can have just two hours parking here. It means that they are not being encouraged to spend time in Ripon; they will come here, shop, and leave.

And if they do decide to shop quickly and then explore the city, how are they attracted from the car park into the Market Square? The short answer is, not at all. This column has already considered the dire view of the backs of the Fishergate and North Street buildings that greets people coming out of Booths and Argos. And even if they are not deterred by this unattractive prospect and are sufficiently determined to find what’s on the other side, there is little indication as to how they do so.

The historic alleys that link the centre of the city with the new car park and stores could be an attractive feature. All around the country there are historic cities whose ancient passageways delight and intrigue visitors – think of Coffee Yard in York, the alley that leads up to the church in Ledbury in Herefordshire or even some of the arcades in Leeds, for example. Visitors feel that there is something worth exploring, something that will reward their intrepid setting out on the unknown. But these alleys are attractive at the outset, encouraging people to wander along them. Ripon’s alleys are not.

One or two of the more enlightened owners are already addressing this problem, making plans to make the car park end of the alleys that they own welcoming, helping to lead visitors through to the historic streets of Ripon. This must be encouraged – and pressure must be put on other owners to do the same. It needs an effort by all of them – with the encouragement of the city and the borough councils, as well as the Civic Society and all other interested groups – really to make this aspect of the city as attractive as possible.

There is an argument, of course, that this should already have been done in time for the opening of Booths. But it is not too late – and in the meantime are there any ‘quick fixes’?

One way of mitigating the depressing view from the new development might be to distract the eye. Why not a row of flagpoles flying suitable flags? – not commercial advertising, but, perhaps, colourful heraldic flags that reflect Ripon’s history. They would draw attention, and maybe lead visitors to explore what lies beyond.

And to liven up the streets once they get there, there could be a whole series of heraldic banners that occupy the brackets for the Christmas trees on the fronts of the shops. Some of them are currently used for the St Wilfrid 1300 banners, but next year the city could be awash with colour from a new set of banners.

This has been done very successfully in Tewkesbury (a town almost exactly the same size as Ripon), where such banners fly all along the main streets. They are organised by local people to mark the town’s Medieval Fair, and represent the heraldry of the people who fought in the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. Made of light canvas, the banners are put together as a community effort. Each banner is hired to the premises that display it at an annual cost of £20. Steve Goodchild, one of the organisers, says he got the idea from seeing similar banners in Bruges, and has a
lready advised places as far away as Brisbane on how to set about getting their banners organised.

Ripon could easily do the same. This should not be a commercial or advertising exercise, but something that is done by the community for the community. We may not have had a battle to commemorate, but we have enough history to make the banners reflect our past. Imagine the Market Square with colourful banners all around it – now wouldn’t that help to attract people?

• Tewkesbury’s Medieval Festival and Battle Re-Enactment takes place this weekend, 11 and 12 July - a great opportunity to see their banners!

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