Maidenhead town centre has been in the doldrums for years. A lack of vision and determination to turn things around from successive councils of different political stripes saw it spiralling into a shabby, down-at-heel shadow of itself even before the recession started to bite.
Many have campaigned long and hard for improvement. But while progress is being made the wheels turn slowly. And a group of four inspirational women, fed up with the glacial pace of change, have set out to improve the here and now – and with it add new impetus to regenerating the town centre by bringing the power of art onto its streets.
In 2009 art shop manager Marie Anne Leonard, town manager Steph James and artists Harriet Brittaine and Steph Gay dreamed up Art on the Street – a plan to improve the town, bring art to the people and help local artists, all by holding an open air art market.
That first event was a triumph, greeted with such enthusiasm by the artistic community and local residents that it has become an annual event.
Successive Art on the Street markets have just got bigger and better – each one bringing tens of thousands of extra visitors into the town centre, giving struggling retailers a welcome shot in the arm and providing a fantastic platform for a growing number of artists to display their talents.
By harnessing this artistic talent, Marie, Harri, Steph and Steph have helped breathe life back into an ailing town centre, clearly showing Maidenhead’s potential to be a lively, thriving town full of interesting independent shops and businesses.
This simply would not be possible without the passion and drive of this determined foursome who have proved that individuals can make a significant difference where officials and institutions have failed.
They have shown imagination, incredible organisational skills and sheer bloody mindedness, exploiting the power of social media to spread word of their events as widely as possible – Marie operates three Twitter accounts, four Facebook pages and two Instagram accounts, afflicting her with the little known condition ‘iPhone Finger’, though she doesn’t complain.
The legacy of their efforts can be seen in the thriving artistic community in Maidenhead finding expression in new ventures such as pop-up shops taking advantage of empty units in the town’s shopping precinct – again under the Art on the Street banner.
Marie, Harri, Steph and Steph promise they are not done yet, threatening many more exciting plans and ideas to unleash on Maidenhead.
Undeterred by the long, hard slog ahead they will not rest until Maidenhead is once again a truly beautiful place to live and work. The town should count itself fortunate indeed to have them.
Submitted by Martin Trepte, Editorial Director for the publisher of the Maidenhead Advertiser and Slough and Windsor Express.