So this is it. This, dear friends, is good-bye.
We Are Bedford has closed the door on its empty shops projects after two years of activity.
Facilitated by funding from the RSA and thanks the generosity of a huge number of volunteers and the help of local businesses, We Are Bedford has transformed numerous empty shops into arts spaces and brought together our creative communities into the bargain. Recognised on a national scale, the work of We Are Bedford has changed the cultural landscape of our town.
It’s hard now to remember that back in 2010, most of the units at Castle Quay were vacant and the area itself had become somewhat neglected. Nearly two years on and following We Are Bedford’s empty shop projects in the area, all bar one of the units are let and Castle Lane is a thriving hub of shoppers and diners. The re-opening of The Higgins in 2013 will surely be the icing on the cake for Bedford’s cultural quarter to achieve its potential.
While the empty shops events in Castle Lane and Mill Street have been the obvious aspect of We Are Bedford’s work, its achievements are much farther reaching. Co-founder Kayte Judge has spoken at conferences regarding the significance of the work and has discovered that she is, in fact a producer; Erica Roffe has founded the community newspaper, The Bedford Clanger , which would not exist without the creative network that has grown from We Are Bedford’s events; numerous businesses have evolved from the Castle Quay Weekender and the Pop Up Emporium; The Circus of Illustration was born following the We Are Bedford Monster Draw in October 2011; local illustrator David Litchfield was able to develop his skills in exhibiting and selling his own work through his ‘A Drawing a Day’ exhibition which contributed to his on-going successes as an illustrator; a busking code now exists and Bedford’s Portas Pilot bid owes its success in part to the national awareness of the work of We Are Bedford. Bedford Creative Arts and The Fountain have subsequently undertaken empty shops projects and We Are Bedford’s founders founders, Kayte Judge and Erica Roffe are now working with Dan Thompson of the Empty Shops Network to help Bedford Borough Council to develop their Empty Shops Strategy as well as other fun stuff.
And while We Are Bedford’s activity may have ceased, its Facebook page will remain a hub of fact-finding, information-sharing and local promotion. With over 500 members, it has grown into a community of like-minded people, happy to share their knowledge and improve the town.
So join us in saying: We Are Bedford is dead. Long live We Are Bedford!