What we are trying to discover with the help of a diverse group of our residents, who are also active participants in a range of activities, is to know, what the substantial elements are that draw and sustain people here.  Perhaps, use of the words ‘soul’ or spirit’ of the place are not readily meaningful to all.  Would we have been better understood  had we asked to learn which aspects for them are of emotional, even spiritual value in living here?  And perhaps, aspects that have aesthetic or cultural content or are about their health and well-being.  However, we did start a conversation which we must continue.  

There has been a reluctance of people to engage in a conversation that seeks to look far ahead, even more than the next few months.  I think we need to bear with this during this time of the Corona Virus pandemic.  There is a fairly common mix of emotions of fear, anxiety, pessimism and cautious hope that we can go on to a new normal, different from before, but not a lot of optimism. Though, I do find within these responses an embryonic set of values and many suggestions that would give evidence of those values being real.

It is important to not only protect and conserve the environment but also the key businesses and larger employers.  The Town Council should be talking with Agilent to find out how they have fared during this time and how they see the company’s presence remaining in Church Stretton and Craven Arms.  The Co -op has done a great job during the lock-down but how can it remain competitive as outside supermarkets have increased their delivery services?   How can residents be encouraged to use local businesses even more?  Even before lock-down there that were businesses which recognised their profit margins were already very slim.  There is probably a conversation to have between residents and local businesses.


Part of the recovery can be in welcoming and embracing a controlled expansion.  We need to grow to be a more sustainable market town.  This does mean reconciling the need to protect the townscape but allow growth and development in sensitive ways.  It calls for us to be pro-active rather than reactive. Perhaps the next decade could be spent in promoting Church Stretton to young families from the cities to move here; to increase the diversity of the population; to balance the age profile.  This would be good for the local economy, the schools and the churches and organisations of the town.  Of course the housing would need to be the right kind for families at different stages in their lives.  

Why people come to visit and what they want when they do must be known.  The National Trust and AONB are huge assets.  I do not know if Holiday Fellowship has an interest in joining an exploration of how we can mutually exploit these opportunities in a more imaginative way producing a rounded package to make the visits longer and richer in content.  Can we together make family holidays a feature to attract people to spend more time here?  How can we as a town and area enhance that experience?   We rely almost entirely on our natural environment but there can be a market for being a more interesting town as well.

Can we with better traffic management facilitate outdoor dining at some pubs and coffee shops?  A reasonably priced quality hotel would be essential to growing the visitor trade.  
Can we keep cars out of town with a park and ride shuttle bus service?  Enrich the town offer with a local museum with the history of Church Stretton and art galleries and Arts and Culture centre.   We already have a very good Arts Festival.  Could we have other events across a diverse range of cultures?

Increase the One-way traffic flow, more pedestrianisation; out-of-town electric charging at a park and ride site.  The Disability offer in town is poor, both with narrow pavements and shop access. This is a serious flaw that does not yet fulfil the Equalities Act of 2010.  Aspire towards a thriving visitor economy.

We are geared well to an older population with a U3A and many societies, but what about parents of young children and single parents. We should make opportunities for them.  What would it take to encourage Shrewsbury University to set up an outreach centre in the Strettons?  Knowledge-sharing is increasingly important for all ages and there could be an opportunity for retired people to mentor and support adult learning.

There may be an increase in homeworking after the pandemic and Church Stretton can be an attractive country town for some.  Could there be a demand for home/office units or small office units with common facilities?  Besides we are well placed, within reasonable commuting distance of larger towns and cities, if again the right housing is available?   We should recognise that we are not doing enough collectively to inspire the young and include them in the full life of the town.

Many businesses have found ways of staying alive with mail order and takeaways.  It is likely that the return to visiting small shops and going out to restaurants will be slow.  Therefore if businesses can keep both sides open then their recovery would be assisted.  Burway Books have set a pathway in this direction and with the addition of online live ‘coffee morning’ discussions and meet the author.  Others may have to offer on-line shopping alongside their live shop if they are to flourish.

Church Stretton is a centre that has vast experience in care of the elderly and with an integration of health and social care around the Mayfair concept it could aspire to become a place of high standards in the care of the Elderly.  Maintaining of people independently in their own homes  with the rovision of respite for carers and an enhanced centre for dementia care – it could work for excellence in this field in close partnership with the Nursing Homes.

We have only just on the edge of a conversation with the churches.  They are together a significant part of the life of the town and provide a huge part of the voluntary effort.  But in their connection to what affects the life of the town, they are on the periphery rather than a leading partner in its future development.  We should look forward to a much more robust conversation as we go on through this process.

Four of the organisations in the town that we consulted were Amnesty International, Save the Children Fund, Stretton Climate Care, United Nations Association.  All face a constant reminder of the age profile of the communities.  All work at present with their difficulties of operating mostly online.  All are of minority interest not only in the Strettons but in the country as a whole. Charities are having a hard time in raising funds and keeping the issues of the world alive in the public mind.  They represent that part of the community that is aware that there are larger issues that do impact on millions of other human beings.  In a global pandemic we are realising that lethal viruses know no borders and we are one vulnerable human species.

They make connections between “our comfortable bubble’ in the Shropshire hills and unsettling, troubling currents in the wider world.”  Civil society needs to be reminded of a wider vision, our common humanity and a need for justice for all.  Again, we are reminded of our connections through our history and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign.  All these organisations and more have their aspirations for the Strettons to be a place of engagement with that wider world, a place of lively discussion and debate about the big issues of the day and have a care and concern for the future of humanity.

I conclude with a quote from another of our respondents.   “The whole value of the consultation process comes from getting groups to interact, get them firing off each other, get them out of their silos, stop them thinking in straight lines, however uncomfortable they may find that process and however difficult it may be for the core group to control.  You can argue that they should not try to control it, just document what comes out of it”.

Noel Beattie
Charles Simmonds
Jonathan Mitchell