Jack The Lad #6: End of the line for East Grinstead?

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After the news broke that East Grinstead train station could lose its ticket office, only three years after the extensive renovations were completed, I decided it was time to return to the East Grinstead Courier to air my thoughts. Have a read below and see what you think!

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If it’s estimated that over 2000 people use East Grinstead station every day, you think that would prescribe it a certain level of importance. But imagine there being absolutely no human interaction during that process: dull, grey boxes dispensing tickets to get you through stiff, stubborn barriers, before an android on wheels descends along the train making checks, like a cold, contentious C3PO.

Maybe I’m exaggerating things here, but cuts have a habit of sitting at the top of a slippery slope, and the speculation that East Grinstead may lose its ticket office has been greeted with the exact kind of negative retorts that you would expect.

Looking round the current site, you have to admit how immaculate it looks. And it should do, at a cost of £2.1 million. It’s been there just long enough for any memories of its decrepit former host to be banished from the minds of the many commuters who use it.

There was even a ceremony with the Town Mayor and our local MP present at its official opening in March 2013; it was seen as that much of an occasion, something to make a fuss about. So why is it, less than three years later, that there are talks of closing the ticket office? You might as well shut the whole station building; after all, why do these things in half measures?

Before you start to get really worried, if this were to actually happen it would not be for a long time. According to reports, the station has been listed in the third wave with the station to close outside of peak hours after a longer period of re-education, with a threat of eventual total closure of the office.

But given the size of the town and the station’s position at the end of its branch for the Oxted line, the fact that the idea is even being debated is utterly ludicrous. Sure, some of us aren’t always in the mood to talk to anyone else and appreciate the serene silence a self-service machine brings, but just picturing the prospect throws up all kinds of questions.

What about season tickets, renewing railcards, or even just a question that a machine cannot answer for you? And what if those ticket machines malfunction? It’s no good being an expert in pushing the right buttons if there aren’t any to push in the first place.

If anything, some people just like to have human interaction. You can just imagine swarms of perplexed customers piling into the Bluebell Railway office trying to renew their monthly passes, or the staff at Motown Coffee facing bemused commuters trying to jab “delay repay” forms in their faces.

Then again, you can certainly see why they’re doing it. We’re seeing more self-service checkouts at supermarkets every day, and banks are gradually encouraging us to become more machine-savvy. But you can afford a delay when you’re doing your weekly shopping; if a machine breaks down at a train station and there’s no kiosks, that’s rush hour chaos guaranteed, regardless of any cancellations.

At a time when half of Southern’s customers are unsatisfied with the franchise’s overall service, it’s hard to imagine this announcement having any kind of positive effect. The solution is simple: stop prioritizing profits over customer service, and stop trying to put us off public transport at a time when more of us should be using it.

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Jack The Lad #4: Subway comes to our high street

The future of East Grinstead: good or bad? (Image credit to East Grinstead Online)

The future of East Grinstead: good or bad? (Image credit to East Grinstead Online)

My latest column for my local paper, the East Grinstead Courier, reflects on the sudden arrival of Subway to the town’s high street and weighs up the pros and cons: sure, the less empty shops in town the better, but then we already have a sandwich shop!

Have a read and let me know your thoughts:

http://www.eastgrinsteadcourier.co.uk/COLUMN-Jack-Graysmark-shop-better-shop/story-27862705-detail/story.html

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If you enjoyed this post, give it a like and let me know your thoughts in a comment below! You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and I also have a whole host of videos to enjoy on my YouTube channel. Go on, you might be pleasantly surprised!

Jack The Lad #3: Savouring the sight of St Swithuns

Always a proud moment

Always a proud moment

My latest column for my local paper, the East Grinstead Courier, looks at the importance of moving a town forward while maintaining its identity- in particular the architecture that defines it.

Can you imagine the news of a familiar locale being torn down to make way for yet more property no longer provoking a reaction? Yet sadly, as such announcements become the daily norm, it is hardly surprising that the reaction has dried up and stagnated.

The Wallis Centre? The Parish Halls? The Rose and Crown? Going, going, and gone before you know it. Outrage becomes grumbling, before grumbling becomes roll of the eyes. Such developments are now taken for granted as part of modern life in East Grinstead.

But one recent proposal particularly caught my attention because of how it concerns our beloved St Swithuns. The proposal would see a property in Cantelupe Road extended vertically, with five new apartments on top. The nagging issue?  The town council is worried it would obscure views of the church.

There’s no denying that as the population expands, so must East Grinstead, and the town’s future will always be an important issue, but as soon as money is on the table, new plans take priority and charge ahead, leaving behind the cherished architecture that defines the town. But can you imagine having the view to such a prominent piece of the town’s fabric blocked by a wannabe skyscraper?

I’m lucky that I can always catch a glimpse of the almighty spire of St Swithun’s from my bedroom; though the church spires are merely a speck in the distance, it is still a beautiful sight to behold. Whether you’re part of the congregation or not, there is no denying that it remains a prominent part of the town’s character.

The town’s development needs to be in a way that does not fragment the overall identity of East Grinstead; that is what keeps people in the area after all. You can start off with the derelict houses dotted about the town’s estates; I passed a ghastly site on Grosvenor Road in Gardenwood the other day that could easily be turned into two apartments. Or what about the old wool shop on Green Hedges Avenue, sold last year but seemingly forgotten?

The big question is, if Cantelupe Road gets the thumbs up, what’s to say more applications won’t be pushed through? Before we know it, St Swithuns could be cowering in the shadows of stocky, monotonous monoliths, heralding a new age where you hear church bells and have no idea where they are coming from.

Such a sight is common in the capital or any city for that matter; but we are not a city. We’re East Grinstead, a small town that basks in the rays of an impressive history. If you keep hacking away at it, it will all seep out, and you’ll be left with just another small town.

Thankfully, the council rejected the proposal, but now the idea is out in the open, what’s to say that I won’t resurface? We moan enough about all manner things in our town as it is; therefore, we should do all we can to nurture the few strands of it we still admire and cherish.

Jack The Lad #2: You’ve gotta fight for your mike

If you were given a moment in the spotlight, how would you use it?

I'm certainly a "vocal hero" of my town at least!

I’m certainly a “vocal hero” of my town at least!

Cities offer an abundance of opportunities for emerging musicians and artists, but for youngsters in the small towns and villages dotted across the country, it’s a completely different picture. As I argue in my second column for my local newspaper the East Grinstead Courier, whenever the circumstances are in your favour, you have to use it and hope with all your might.

The lights flash on and you’re ready to go. Centre of the stage with a guitar in your hand, you step up to the microphone and find yourself staring out across a sea of bemused faces, all ready to be entertained. Forget who’s played before, forget any previous context; the atmosphere, if not the night itself, now rests on you. Does that fill you with horror? Dread? Or perhaps excitement?

If it’s the latter, then perhaps it’s time to start doing some vocal exercises; now has never been a better time to be a musician in East Grinstead. My teenage years in the mid-noughties were punctuated randomly by the occasional showcase of local bands… usually whenever someone could convince the Wallis Centre or the Parish Hall to give them a shot.

Real opportunities for adolescents to demonstrate their musical talents were a rare treat. Who knows how many hidden gems slipped under the radar? Sure, it’s to be expected with small towns and villages, but the sad result is an abundance of proficient youngsters who are unable to utilize their skills and learn the craft of the live setting. After all, there’s only so much magic that can be wrung out of garage rehearsals and bedroom demos.

But now, things are certainly on the up. The Crow’s Nest, already reputable for putting on a diverse assortment of live acts, hosts a weekly Open Jam Night on Tuesdays. You can bring a group, perform solo or even join the resident band; if you’ve got the enthusiasm, there’s nothing to stop you. Or how about The Sussex Arms? Often overlooked, the pub is becoming a prominent location for emerging acts to break in their boots.

And then, there’s Ashstock. Last September saw the inaugural edition of the festival, where over a thousand revelers descended on John Pears field in Ashurst Wood, to enjoy a packed schedule of local acts and twenty kinds of ale from the surrounding area, including a batch brewed especially for the event. Suddenly, a quiet corner of Ashurst Wood was transformed into the most enjoyable event in Sussex; sometimes, the simplest of ingredients work wonders.

But asides from bringing the local community together (and a bit more besides), Ashstock’s aims was to give local youngsters a much needed platform, to give them their own moment in the spotlight. How they use it is up to them; the point is that there was one there in the first place, actively encouraging youngsters to have a go. Now back for a second outing, Ashstock is looking to fill its roster as it did before, and it’s not a prospect to be sniffed at.

Everyone knows how hard it is to catch a break in the music industry, and none more so than the wannabe musicians themselves. But if you can captivate a group of passing strangers, then surely you can take on any crowd that comes your way? And you never know who is going to stumble across your set; maybe someone with just the right connections to help you on to the next step.

It’s a shame there aren’t more of these events often. The buzz Ashstock generated shows that there’s certainly the demand for it. You can never guarantee how long these events will be providing an open door for, or whether that sea of bemused faces will be there in the first place. So, whenever an opportunity like this comes along, you have to make the most of it.