WIGHT LIVINGCARING folk in Brading are desperate to stop the Kyng’s Towne from turning into a ghost town.
In the last 18 months, Brading, particularly its High Street, has suffered following the closure of the iconic wax museum, formerly known as Brading Experience.
Falling numbers of visitors led to the museum’s closure in January 2010 and the knock-on effect has been there for all to see — more people are driving through Brading, rather than stopping to look around.
Many of the pubs, shops and other businesses in the town have been affected and Brading Post Office was the most recent casualty when it closed last month.
There are also doubts over the future of a street trading business in Brading car park, run by Wight Food Company, which is currently involved in a licensing wrangle with the IW Council.
However, adversity has brought out the best in those who care about their beloved town, as residents and organisations have rallied to turnaround Brading’s fortunes.
Sue Birch, 62, of Quay Lane, has lived in the town for nearly 30 years and she continues to work at the heart of the community to put the town back on the map.
Sue, who set up the Brading Residents’ Action Group (BRAG) in 2009, said: "Losing the wax museum was a huge blow to tourism in Brading — it has impacted on everything.
"We are very concerned people don’t stop to explore any more but we still have an awful lot to offer.
"It is a wonderful place and we are very lucky to be surrounded by such beautiful countryside but it is so sad to see the high street eroding away."
Sue believes Brading’s recovery depends on offering more to locals and visitors.
She plans to stage more events in the town hall and build on the success of last year’s Brading Bash, which was held to raise awareness of what the town had to offer.
"The post office was the only place where some people would have any social contact and it’s important to get the community back into Brading.
"We need to give them reasons to come into the town — Brading is not just about tourism, it has got to look after the locals."
Businesses have also recognised that they need to do more to encourage people into the town.
For the first time in years, many of Brading’s businesses came together to hear plans on a new marketing and promotional strategy for the town.
Sue Chilton, clerk to Brading Town Council, which initiated the meeting, said: "The businesses are concerned about what has happened to Brading and they are very keen to help revitalise the town."
Sue said the businesses were planning to meet regularly — the next meeting is on March 12 — when they will have a chance to quiz IW Council head of planning Bill Murphy, on planning issues in the town.
One of the main concerns has been the delay in approving plans to develop the former wax museum, which has been earmarked for houses and an arts and craft shop.
Sue said: "People are up in arms about it. It is a very prominent building sitting empty and this will be another whole season lost in Brading."
Meanwhile, the three High Street pubs have been trying to entice more customers — examples include over 50s dinners at The Dark Horse, breakfasts at The Wheatsheaf and curry and pizza/pasta nights at The Bugle.
Hose Rhodes Dickson Auction Rooms has been a success story since it took up the former World of Wheels building, adjoining the wax museum, last year and three businesses are understood to be interested in retaining a post office in the town.
However, applications have to be accepted by Post Office headquarters and it is unlikely a service will be available for about three months.
Brading’s railway station is another hidden gem, following the completion of restoration work to its signalbox, to bring it back to its 1950s glory.
Lynne Attwood, chairman of Brading Town Trust, which is responsible for Beechgrove park, plus the old and new Brading town halls and Brading car park, said she was delighted people were pulling in the same direction.
She said: "The trust firmly believes we should all work together, we think it’s the future of community work."
Brading Town Council also has a number of schemes for the town, including initiating the neighbourhood plan and revisiting the community hub strategy.
Under the Localism Act, the neighbourhood plan would give more weight to the parish council in regard to planning decisions.
And after the community hub plans were shelved because of the schools’ reorganisation, hopes are again high it could become a reality.
That would mean facilities for the whole community, such as a doctors’ surgery, youth club, peripatetic services for the elderly, nursery and a pharmacy, would all be located under one roof — at the site of Brading Primary School.
A new newsletter dedicated to everything Brading is also in the offing.
Town mayor, Cllr Marianne Sullivan, said: "It was a terrible shock when the wax museum closed and it took the wind out of sales.
"But we have some wonderful people in Brading who really want to make a difference.
"Plus we have a Norman church, a Victorian railway station, an amazing dolls museum and the Roman Villa to name but a few, plus miles and miles of countryside — what more could you want?"
• Volunteers are needed to give tours of the signalbox at Brading Railway Station.
Anyone interested can contact 01983 401770.