From children and culture to wellbeing and wildflowers: The year ahead for Letchworth’s Heritage Foundation

Graham Fisher outlines the foundation's priorities for 2020. Picture: Brian Petty

Graham Fisher outlines the foundation's priorities for 2020. Picture: Brian Petty - Credit: Archant

Graham Fisher, chief executive of the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, looks ahead to a busy 2020 for the organisation.

Early this month, we started to develop a health and wellbeing vision. This is being done by working closely with Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust, local GPs, the council and other health service providers - as well as our own Ernest Gardiner Centre. This will build on the potential for setting up a new town centre-based health hub in 2021.

We will also look at what we can do together with our partners, so our residents can live well and access the range of health and wellbeing services in the town.

We want to focus on people having more opportunities to stay well and prevent poor health through active lifestyles. This would reignite the early Garden City philosophy of wellbeing and will ensure everyone can take advantage of the wide range of facilities and resources that are on offer in Letchworth.

This week we hosted a round table discussion with the Hertfordshire LEP and local business leaders to discuss the new Local Industrial Strategy about the economic future of Letchworth.

This is a key objective of our strategic plan and one where we need to address some really difficult questions about the future of the Letchworth's economy: how to nurture new generations of entrepreneurs, how to attract new businesses to Letchworth and what type of premises they need.

We also need to look at what we can do to sustain existing businesses, particularly in areas such as retail which continues to face its most challenging time.

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As part of this work, we are assessing the viability of a Centre for Creative Industries. We are pleased that Letchworth features significantly in the new Local Industrial Strategy for Hertfordshire, and we will be working closely with the LEP and others in 2020 to agree a long-term plan.

Housing will continue to be another major focus of our work this year, albeit slower than originally planned following delays to the adoption of the Local Plan.

We will be progressing plans for land to the east of Talbot Way, while developing our long-term vision for designated areas of housing growth in a range of locations across the town.

Addressing wider strategic implications such as transport policy, to develop a sustainable transport strategy linked to these housing sites, is also on our agenda.

To attract a younger demographic - many of whom we know cannot afford to buy a home - we will test whether there are viable investment opportunities to develop new private rented sector homes in Letchworth.

We have designated 2020 as our Year of the Wildflower and we have a range of projects underway to increase wildflower planting and improve biodiversity across a number of sites in the town.

This will form part of a wider review of our sustainability policy that we will undertake this year. We have already agreed to work closely with North Herts District Council as well as other local groups.

As part of the sustainability projects for 2020, we will also create a new orchard and a woodland, following a successful grant application to the Woodland Trust.

This year we are also developing our first arts and culture strategy, involving a wide range of partners. Building on the Hertfordshire Year of Culture 2020, this will draw together our cultural and heritage education programmes and audience development plans for our venues.

Destination-making and feasibility testing the cost-benefit of a Letchworth loyalty card across our venues - and potentially with local businesses - are also being considered.

Taken together, these actions will support our goal for 'culture for all,' to be a real life-changing marker of Letchworth - strengthening creativity, building civic pride and creating opportunities.

Improving opportunities for our youngest residents will be another major focus of our work. Research we commissioned indicates that some local families with young children face significant and complex challenges. Working in partnership with local schools and voluntary organisations, we are investing in a range of support services for pre-school and early years children and their families.

Alongside these major strategic developments, we will continue to deliver our wide range of local services from Broadway to Standalone Farm. We also aim to reach more people, look after the built and natural environment, and fund a wide range of local initiatives through our grants programme.

Lastly but certainly not least, we aim to replicate the Property Team's outstanding 2019 performance on managing our investment assets. The team has maintained a record low levels of voids and arrears, which help us maximise our investment income that pays for all that we are able to do. Without this, none of our ambitions would be realised.