My connections with Ashford go back over 40 years. From the early days of thinking how great it could be to its transformation today as a hub of Kent’s activity.
My first connections with Ashford was as a youngster and coming into Ashford on a Saturday morning, with the parents, to ‘go round the market’. That’s what we did back then. God that makes it sound like ages ago – it was only the mid 70’s. Back then I lived on Romney Marsh, so a trip to the big town was a treat when you’re little.
Anyway, Ashford’s Saturday market was always ram-packed. If you don’t know, the market was where the brand new Elwick Place is now.
Moving forward to the early 80’s and I was captain of the Marshes local youth (under 16’s) football team. Our team played in the Ashford Under 16’s league, so during the season I came to Ashford every other weekend to play- be that against Ashford Dynamo, Kennington or one of the other Ashford teams.
After leaving school following the exams, I went to Ashford College to study computer studies amongst other subjects (there wasn’t an internet in Ashford then) It was in Jemmet Road in those days, but now has a row of houses being built in its place. The shiny new college now sits in the town centre. In fact most of the places we used to go to in the town centre have since vanished too.
The town centre experience…
Moving forward a few years and I worked in Ashford’s first computer shop – DGH Software in North Street. It was just when the first consoles came out (think Comodore 64). Saturdays were always our busiest days, for one main reason. You might not know but the first printers out were called dot matrix printers, (they printed dots out to form letters or whatever you were printing). Anyway, we had a big old camera in the shop connected to a computer (todays fitbits are more powerful than that computer was), which had the dot matrix printer attached to it.
For £1.00 we took your picture and printed it out. It would take a good few minutes to print out onto a sheet of continuous computer paper. People had never witnessed such magic (Harry Potter was years in the future). Most people just stood staring in awe as their image was printed out line by line. It was so popular most Saturdays the queue went out the shop and along North Street. (I’d be interested to know if any local still has their printout)
Next came a spell working out in Wye at T.Denne & Sons, an agricultural merchants based at the Watermill in Wye. Lunchtimes in the summer were spent splashing around in the river if it was a hot day, along with the local kids who were on summer hols.
Self employment begins…
Christmas ’89 and I started at McLaren Foods on Beaver Industrial Estate. Next thing I know six years had passed, I was married, childs on the way and living in South Willesborough. After a few years working for an IT company in London, self employment beckoned. In 1998 I had my office in New Rents in the town centre. From there I operated an IT recruitment and contract trainer business alongside a website hosting business. I also did a few lectures to students back at the college in Jemmet Road then too. And ThisIsAshford finally came into being.
The internet was still a bit mysterious then to most people in Ashford. I used to help out a lady called Margaret, who ran the newly created Ashford Town Centre Partnership. Mobile phone were relatively new around Ashford too. I got my first one when I worked in London before coming back to Ashford. the phone only worked inside the M25 then, once you hit the M20 no more signal.
Over the years, especially the last twenty five, Ashford has transformed. Primarily kick started with the arrival of Ashford International. Having no cinema for ages was a pain, but you knew once the station opened, Ashford was never gonna be the ‘what could have been’ town again.
As far as more personal connections with Ashford go, I guess the biggest reason I care about the town so much is my children. It is where all four came into being. Where they went to school, grew up and half of them still live in Ashford. It’s also where the four became five. My ex-wife became legal guardian to my eldest sons’ best friend due to family difficulties he was having. And he joined the family. Sadly his life was cut short within the town centre about five years ago. But his belonging continues to be part of all our lives. Although I personally live just outside Ashford for now, I still spend a large part of my time there due to both family and work, including This Is Ashford. So my connections with Ashford are ongoing.