What started as a simple expression calling for ideas to improve safety and the overall beauty of Main Road in Somerset West and surrounds has “accidentally” snowballed into a 150-member strong project comprising several sub-committees and pledges of support by businesses and developers.
Aptly named the Somerset West City Revival Project, it was founded in July and is already well-organised with a greenery team focusing on planting trees and flower beds; an aesthetics team with an eye on beautifying walls with murals, conserving heritage buildings and seeking solutions to abandoned buildings; a safety team looking to resolve issues related to homelessness and crime in the CBD; an eco team to ensure a reduced footprint in the CBD; and other teams focusing on signage and seeking to boost tourism with a possible art route, among other ideas and plans.
“Ultimately it is up to us to improve the quality of life in our community, to make people feel safe and to make an effort for change, else we can’t complain,” said Michelle Engelbrecht, who has lived in Somerset West all her life. She was born at Helderberg Hospital, attended Loreto Primary and Parel Vallei High and, as such, has an enduring love for the town.
A couple of months ago Engelbrecht took to social media, asking if anyone in the community would be interested in a CBD revival project.
“I really thought, at best, it would result in about six of women getting together over weekends to do some planting, but the response was overwhelming. The post attracted hundreds of people sharing the same passion and energy. I was inundated with positive responses.”
The idea dawned on Engelbrecht on returning from an overseas trip when she noticed “things were falling apart” in the Somerset West CBD, and felt it was unfair that people felt unsafe along Main Road surrounded by litter and vagrancy.
“Ordinary community members, youngsters, businesses and developers reached out, even people from Strand and new residents to our town from Durban and Johannesburg – all with a common view on the potential our town has and with a commitment to seeing an improvement.”
A plan was conceived at the first meeting, and soon after the wheels started turning on the project. Engelbrecht said enthusiastic community members from all walks of life have offered their time and services to the project, along with small and big business and developers.
“Every day my breath is taken away by the scenery and mountains in our beautiful town; we want to share this with others and attract tourists. Our vision to bring the flora of the Helderberg into town and create a fynbos trail, we want murals to feature fynbos, the Khoisan and our passionate firefighters,” she related.
“We want to make our town safe and develop a cycling route dotted with water fountains. There’s just so many ideas and we don’t want to exclude anyone; this is for the community, so we can enjoy our village, create a safe space for shopping during evenings in December where people can enjoy sundowners and interact.”
A clean-up has already taken place and more is being planned in the coming months. A new website to showcase the attractions of Somerset West is nearing completion and applications to Heritage Western Cape to beautify buildings have been submitted, as well as applications to the City of Cape Town’s Parks and Recreation Department for the planting of trees and flowerbeds along Main Road and key intersections, repairs of railings and painting murals on walls.
Despite the red tape associated with all these applications, Engelbrecht said they will not be deterred or give up.
“We’re absolutely raring to go and we’re serious about this!” she exclaimed.
Veronique van der Westhuizen, who heads the aesthetics team and only recently moved to Somerset West from Pretoria, loves living in the community with so much history and beauty.
“It’s hard not to notice the bits of decay around the CBD,” she pointed out. “When I came across this initiative I could relate to exactly how people feel about standing up and doing something for change. All our town needs is a little bit of love. It’s a privilege to work with incredible people who want to invest their time in making the CBD a beautiful and safe space again.”
Pieter Kotze, a businessman involved in real estate, immediately jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the project to lure investment back into town, make it brighter and for the upliftment of the community. “The advantages of such a project are endless and everyone would benefit from a revived CBD,” he said.
Ward 15 councillor Gregory Peck fully supports the initiative, stating it is refreshing to see the enthusiasm shown for the betterment of the community.
“There are a number of municipal regulations when it comes to many of the plans and ideas the group has, and they have my complete support in terms of navigating the legal framework so it complies with the City’s laws.”
V To contact Michelle and for more information on the Somerset West City Revival Project, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.