‘We’ll get ‘Ville up and buzzing again!

Roz Lush, left, and Jackie Buckley by the bandstand in Waterlooville''''Picture: Allan Hutchings (151253-220)

Roz Lush, left, and Jackie Buckley by the bandstand in Waterlooville''''Picture: Allan Hutchings (151253-220)

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She’s a woman on a mission.

Jackie Buckley is determined to bring the love back to Waterlooville and get people visiting the town centre once again.

The town was once a thriving high street, with its own independent bakers, butchers and everything a shopper could wish for.

But things have gradually gone downhill – to the point earlier this year where the local MP George Hollingbery admitted the town centre was at crisis point.

The reasons are undoubtedly complex.

Many would argue the pedestrianisation of London Road in the early 1980s was a nail in the coffin, while the ever-growing retail park across the road has helped to divide the town.

Some would say that Waterlooville’s rapid expansion over the past 50 years has not helped because community pride – the glue that unites people in a common cause – has diminished.

But Jackie is not one for dwelling on the past.

She is determined to look forward and sing the praises of Waterlooville ‘from the rooftops’, as she puts it.

Earlier this year Jackie became the chairwoman of Waterlooville Community Forum events team.

She plans to help make the town centre buzz with activities and entertainment in the hope of attracting shoppers.

‘I thought it would give me a bit of a challenge,’ says Jackie, the former chief executive of the Relate charity and a resident of Waterlooville for 30 years.

‘The idea was to try to stimulate Waterlooville.

‘It’s normally very quiet.

‘It’s owned by lots of different landlords.

‘There’s lots of moans from the businesses because of the high rents caused by the absentee landlords.

‘They are more interested in the income than the actual shops.

‘The problem is, like many towns, that the soul of the town is lost to the retail parks.

‘The rents become high so shops get empty which stand out.

‘You get the charity shops which pay less in rates. Waterlooville has a lot of cafes and charity shops.

‘But it’s no different from a lot of towns.

‘This is about trying to find ways of getting people to come back to Waterlooville.

‘The aim of the events team is to put on events and try and stimulate some community pride which Waterlooville lacks because there is so much new housing.

‘You get more and more people who don’t know each other. You get lots of businesses that don’t know each other – so you lose that community cohesion.’

With at least 60,000 people now living in the Waterlooville area and thousands more in surrounding villages, it’s a high street that should be thronging with people.

But many are opting to go to Portsmouth, Chichester, Fareham or Havant instead.

This year a number of initiatives have been started to turn the tide on decline.

The town has been spruced up with Waterlooville in Bloom and live music events that have been started at the town’s bandstand.

The last Pink Floyd tribute event attracted more than 300 people and local shopkeepers reported an increase in trade.

Jackie, who was once a hospital manager at Queen Alexandra Hospital, knows it’s about baby steps and that things won’t change overnight.

She says: ‘We can’t sort out the parking problem, the high rates, we are not there for that.

‘It’s about getting people to realise that Waterlooville exists.

‘Sometimes we feel that Waterlooville is the poor relation.

‘Some have said should it have its own council.

‘But that’s a not a goer, purely because of the cost.

‘But we need people to realise Waterlooville does exist and we need to be taken seriously.

‘Things can happen in Waterlooville but people have to work together to achieve it. If we have one voice it’s better than lots of different people shouting.’

Jackie is being helped by the enthusiastic Roz Lush, a 21-year-old who has just graduated in creative writing.

Roz proudly says she has lived in Waterlooville ‘as long as she can remember’.

‘This is building community spirit,’ she says.

‘There’s a lot in Waterlooville that was not being used like the bandstand.

‘People are planning to build a cinema and other things. We needed to give the town a boost to get it on the map.’

The enthusiasm from the local businesses is obvious.

After a few quiet years, there are now around 50 businesses involved with the community forum.

In the long term, Jackie hopes that Waterlooville can attract some quirkier independent shops and build an evening economy with some restaurants.

She says: ‘We need bigger shops and something like a restaurant. If one business comes in, it will attract more businesses.’

On why she loves living in Waterlooville, Jackie says: ‘Because of its location. We can get everywhere easily.

‘You can get to the sea, the country.

‘It’s a nice area. It’s a shame when the soul of the town centre is disappearing.’

We may be at the tail end of the summer, but Jackie is already planning big things for this Christmas.

Last year 1,400 people came to the town centre to see the Christmas lights being switched on and Jackie hopes to make this year bigger and better.

She says: ‘The other areas in Havant have a Christmas tree – but Waterlooville does not.

‘But we are going to have one this year. We are going to have an 18ft Christmas tree and bring some Christmas spirit to Waterlooville.’

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