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What's in store for the town of Andover for 2024?

Walking among Andover's cobbled side streets is like taking a step back in time. Image: Angus Kirk
Walking among Andover's cobbled side streets is like taking a step back in time. Image: Angus Kirk

Overdeveloped and undervalued is how I would describe Andover. But a transformation is underway. The Chantry Centre shopping mall is to be reimagined, a new wellbeing quarter developed, and a river corridor created to make the most of one of Andover’s hidden features – the River Anton.

It’s about time. Andover deserves some TLC. The roots of this historic market town go way back to Saxon times. By the time of the Domesday Book it was considered a significant settlement. Over the centuries Andover grew due to watermills, markets and its position as an important coaching stop on the main road from London to Exeter. Stroll around Andover and you will still find characterful old inns, quirky narrow passages, riverside walks and glorious Georgian architecture signifying the town’s previous prosperity.

However, it could be argued (and I would) that Andover lost much of its charm following its designation in the 1950s as an overspill town for London. Roads were inelegantly sliced to make way for a ring road and inappropriate lumpen builds ruined the look and feel of the centre.

Great British Life: Some beautiful buildings can be seen in the town's centre, such as the one which houses Andover Museum. Image: Angus KirkSome beautiful buildings can be seen in the town's centre, such as the one which houses Andover Museum. Image: Angus Kirk

Despite this, Andover is a town with community at its heart. How many towns of this size have a much-loved station cat, Jess - being mourned following his death in October?

Local business owners, such as Kate Griffin, enthuse about Andover. Kate says: ‘I’m a big fan of Andover! It has more openings for small businesses, local people are supportive and there is lots happening.’

Kate should know, her business Wessex Spirits, recently celebrated two years at The Gin Palace, located in a seventeenth century coaching inn that is shared with The Andover Tap.

She handcrafts gins on site as well as offering a quirky event space including bar and tasting rooms.

Kate explains: ‘When I moved location to open The Gin Palace, I came within the Andover BID (Business Improvement District). They were so supportive. They gave me a grant to improve the premises and help during the pandemic through the Shared Shop scheme. So, when an opening came up on Andover BID’s board the then manager, Steve Godwin, invited me to join, and I did, because I wanted to shout about the support Andover BID provides. Andover is an amazing place for small independent businesses; it is such a great community; everyone looks after each other!’

Great British Life: The pretty Guildhall square looks magical in the evenings. Image: Angus KirkThe pretty Guildhall square looks magical in the evenings. Image: Angus Kirk

BID FOR IMPROVEMENT

Shelley Coburn took over as manager of Andover BID in January, following Steve Godwin’s retirement at the end of December. Steve comments: ‘Shelley’s expertise, passion, and roots in this community make her the ideal candidate to continue the work of the Andover BID.’

This is an organisation dedicated to help drive the town centre’s growth and enhance its image. As a local resident herself and having worked for Andover BID for the last three years, Shelley has an understanding of the town’s dynamics, qualities and needs, saying that she is looking forward to making Andover an even more vibrant place to live, work and visit.

Shelley reflects: ‘Andover is a unique blend of market town tradition and innovation, where you can find time-honoured establishments alongside independent creators and innovators. The town is a great canvas for those who dare to dream, offering a platform for creative individuals and entrepreneurs to flourish.

Great British Life: Marlborough Street in Andover has a lovely view of the Church of St Mary. Image: Adrian PinkMarlborough Street in Andover has a lovely view of the Church of St Mary. Image: Adrian Pink

‘Over the past five years, Andover has undergone a noticeable transformation, reflecting changes in its demographic landscape and the character of its town centre. An influx of new residents, particularly from Southwest London and Surrey seeking more affordable housing options, has contributed to a shift in the town's dynamics. The town centre, once dominated by chain stores, has experienced a shift with the emergence of independent businesses, such as a haberdashery and a music shop, adding to Andover's unique character.

‘The town's evolution is not solely economic; a community spirit has become integral to Andover's identity. Residents come together for various events, fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose. This communal bond extends beyond celebrations to moments of need, where the town rallies together to offer support. This resilience and connectedness contribute to Andover's reputation as a welcoming and close-knit community. As Andover continues to evolve, the combination of economic growth, cultural diversity, and a tight-knit community spirit ensures that the town remains a thriving and inclusive place for residents and visitors alike.

‘We are experiencing a transformation that reflects the aspirations and needs of our new residents. The town is evolving, embracing diversity, and reimagining itself to offer an inclusive and exciting environment for all.’

Great British Life: Andover Second Sundays Image: Test Valley Borough CouncilAndover Second Sundays Image: Test Valley Borough Council

NEW VISION

Working alongside NEW Masterplanning and HemingwayDesign, Test Valley Borough Council has agreed a new vision and masterplan for Andover. This followed extensive consultation with Town Council officers, key employers, local retailers, and engagement with the local community. Widespread support was secured for a comprehensive redevelopment of the town centre, focusing on four key proposals. First: the redevelopment of the Chantry Centre, an outdated and unattractive shopping mall. Second: A Wellbeing Quarter with the creation of green space within and around the town centre. Third: opening up the river Anton and creating a new town centre riverfront. Finally: reducing the scale of the ring road and improving facilities for walking and cycling.

The new vision also highlighted the importance of pop-up activities and events to bring together the local community, to create identity, and provide entertainment for both residents and visitors. It is believed that the plan is innovative yet grounded in commercial reality and therefore deliverable.

It had also been noted that Andover and its surrounding villages are stuffed with talent – including designing, making, cooking, crafting, brewing and even winemaking! This has given rise to the introduction of a creative-led independent market. An extensive list of local craftspeople, producers, and street food traders was compiled, and Second Sundays established and launched in June 2022. This monthly market brings together some of the best local producers, designer-makers, and artists in the region, alongside street food, live DJs, and free creative workshops on the second Sunday of every month in the town centre. Since then, Second Sundays have gone from strength to strength, building on both trader and visitor numbers each month.

Great British Life: The River Anton. Image: Test Valley Borough CouncilThe River Anton. Image: Test Valley Borough Council

RIVER REVOLUTION

One of the most obvious transformations for Andover town centre is the opening up of the river Anton. Imagery of the final scheme shows paths for walkers and cyclists winding through grassy banks, low bridges, stepping stones and benches for whiling away the time.

Councillor Phil North, Leader, Test Valley Borough Council says: ‘Following the launch of the masterplan for Andover town centre, we have been moving ahead with elements of this major redevelopment project. The plans for a new riverside walk are progressing well. This will see a revamp of the Western Avenue area and the creation of a picturesque park as well as a riverside walk, south of Bridge Street, to showcase the town’s charming River Anton. This is the first step in the journey towards the complete regeneration of Andover town centre. We are currently in the process of appointing landscape designers to develop a detailed scheme, which will then be submitted for consideration as part of a planning application. We will be sharing details of the design proposals later in the year.

‘In addition to ongoing regeneration works, we are currently putting together another exciting programme of markets and events for 2024 - designed to celebrate the town, offer a wide range of activities for residents, and support local businesses.’

ANDOVER FACTS

DID YOU KNOW?

A blue heritage plaque on Andover High Street honours Reg Presley, lead singer of The Troggs, and marks the place where the band, best known for Wild Thing and Love is All Around, played in the 1960s.

DON’T MISS

The Lights is a hub of cultural activity in Andover offering a programme of comedy, dance, music and theatre, along with arts-related education. January’s programme includes: The Wizard of Oz by Ballet Theatre UK; comic Chris McCausland; and Abba Forever tribute band.

FAMILY FUN

Open all year round with a massive indoor play barn, plus animal handling and feeding activities, Finkley Down Farm & Adventure Park was one of the first farm parks in the country.



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