• Tony Bosworth

Windsor on track to be better than Leura, Bowral or Katoomba

If you’ve been to Windsor lately you’ll have noticed the buzz. It’s a lively town with history at its core. But it hasn’t always been the vibrant place it is today.

During the last decade or so the main historic mall which houses many of the town’s colonial-era buildings often looked drab and empty shops stared out at the few passers-by.

But now Windsor is on the up and soon to also benefit from its share of $18m worth of rejuvenation money handed to Hawkesbury City Council, thanks to funding by all three levels of government via the Western Sydney City Deal.

This last week we spent some time with one of the town’s most successful local businessmen – Darren Pead - the force behind the I Love Windsor Facebook page who’s also a very enthusiastic cheerleader for the town, to find out what’s happening in one of the country’s oldest towns.

“My vision for Windsor is it can become like a Leura or a Bowral or a Mittagong or a Katoomba, but Windsor can be even better because those places don’t have the history Windsor has,” Mr Pead told the Post.

“My wife and I have had a business in Windsor since 2005 and we first came here because we liked Windsor,” Mr Pead said.

Darren Pead

“Then in about 2008 the new Coles opened in the shopping centre and the Woolworths in there was refurbished and it took a lot of businesses out of the Mall. The Mall went downhill and Windsor town, the main street went downhill.”

But Mr Pead and wife Lucille who own Guy Stuff and Lollies ‘N Stuff and who are about to open a third shop in the mall never gave up on Windsor.

“It’s taken many years for Windsor to bounce back,” says Mr Pead.

“Over the last two or three years it’s really come back, people can see it, people are noticing it. Five years ago there were a lot of empty shops down the north end of the Mall [the waterwheel end] and now there’s only two and they’re small ones and both of those shops I know people are looking at leasing them.”

Windsor's iconic waterwheel

Six months ago, at the south end of the Mall, there were 10 empty buildings but now it’s down to only four and there’s a lot of interest from potential buyers and people looking to lease.

“Everyone thinks the north end of the Mall is fantastic,” says Mr Pead. “But 10 years ago people wanted to rip that entire end of the Mall out. Five years ago people were saying let’s rip the southern end out and keep the northern end because it’s fantastic. My view is keep the Mall as it is, and fix it. Let’s keep the south end as vibrant and buzzing as the north end, which is now happening.”

Last month Mr Pead was one of several prominent Windsor business owners who spoke at a Hawkesbury Council meeting where they pleaded with councillors not to readmit traffic to the south end of the mall – a suggestion that came out of the Masterplan to showcase potential improvements under the $18m spend.

Another perfect day dawns at the north end of Windsor's historic Mall

“I spoke at that council meeting because businesses have been working on Windsor for 10 years and I’d hate to see now that we’re making good progress that they choose to send in a bulldozer to dig the Mall up.”

The news for both businesses and those who enjoy a stroll down the mall is the council has dumped the idea of readmitting traffic to any part of the mall.

“What annoys me is the people who used to be vocal about ripping the Mall out, half of them don’t live in Windsor, none of them have a business in Windsor.”

“The council have been listening,” says Mr Pead who is on a committee helping advise the council on potential developments.

Lion's head detail on the beautifully engraved Windsor Mall park benches

“I’m not a politician, I don’t support one side of politics or the other, I just want to do what is best for Windsor and for the businesses and the community. If they had gone ahead with ripping the mall up at one end it would have cost a third of the $18m.

“What I put forward is we’ve got Thompson Square this end, the Windsor railway station the other end. It’s 1.5km on a completely straight road, We can have a fantastic historic boulevard going all the way from the train station all the way to Thompson Square.

“I agree the south end of the mall has looked ugly for a long time because the old Woolworths building was empty.”

But Mr Pead and his wife have just taken over the building next to the old Woolies – they are moving Lollies ‘N Stuff into the bigger building - and a friend of theirs has taken on the vacated Woolworths for a new business yet to be revealed.

“What’s going to go in there is good for Windsor, “Mr Pead said. “It’s not an employment agency, it’s not a department of housing office, there was a child care centre looking at it for a while too, but those things do not help the retail heart of Windsor. We need people that come and visit the town and its businesses.”

The current Lollies ‘N Stuff building – owned by the Peads – will open its doors to a new business early next year. The couple have several firm ideas for their next venture.

It would have been better for Windsor to have kept the old bridge, says Darren Pead. Pic by Paul James Evans

Mr Pead is careful not to get involved in politics but he believes it would have been better for the town to have kept the old 1874 Windsor Bridge which is currently being demolished.

“My personal view is it would have been nice if they had kept the bridge and made it a pedestrian crossing.”

He says other historical elements of Windsor must be kept so people can visit and enjoy the unique ambience.

“There’s been talk about replacing the wood and metal old park benches along the mall. They need to be refurbished but someone is talking about taking them all out and putting modern ones in. Modern ones might be good for Bondi beach but Windsor is historic. I don’t know how old they are but they shouldn’t be removed, they should be refurbished.”

Windsor's gas lamps will burn bright again

The same goes for the classic Victorian style gas lamps along the mall which some wanted removed and permanently replaced with newer electric-powered designs.

“I think we have had a win on the gaslights. They are staying and they are going to be working again. Someone had a brain wave in the past and said let’s just disconnect them and stick ugly streetlights in. There are cities around the world spending millions of dollars installing gas lamps. Windsor’s got them and someone had this silly idea to disconnect them all.

Windsor - much to offer visitors and residents any day of the week

“All the councillors I’ve spoken to seem to get the idea that Windsor is an historic town. We need to keep what we’ve got. We can’t destroy it. Like replacing old park benches with plastic ones more at home in Bondi – that was never going to be a good move.”

Mr Pead and his wife started the I Love Windsor page in 2010.

“We just got sick of people criticising Windsor, so we thought we’d start a Facebook page about all the good things about Windsor.”

It seems to be working. Get down to Windsor this weekend and see how much has changed and how vibrant one of the country’s oldest colonial-era towns really is. Look out Leura, Katoomba and Bowral, Windsor’s open for business.