As we celebrate the beginning of a new year, the Comet takes a look back at the year that was with a round up of 2023.


From crime to misconduct hearings, there was plenty going on in Stevenage and North Herts at the start of the year.

One top story was Stevenage Leisure Ltd losing the contract to run the town's leisure services after 25 years.

The Comet: Stevenage Swimming CentreStevenage Swimming Centre (Image: Google Maps)

Residents questions how this would impact memberships and facilities, however SLL bosses assured readers that "SLL are working with Everyone Active to ensure a seamless transfer of the operations, and can guarantee it is business as usual for our customers at all of the facilities". 

Issues arose when the contract ultimately changed hands in April, when former members' direct debits were reinstated in an "administration error".


Amid planning applications and SLL losing a second contract in North Herts, Stevenage was named one of the "top 50 worst places to live" in February.

The power of the Stevenage people also made the headlines, as changes were made to the town's bus timetables following a petition led by Ann Meldrum.

The Comet: Ann MeldrumAnn Meldrum (Image: Pearce Bates)

81-year-old Ann started her bus petition after becoming frustrated at the regularity of the number six bus route.

At the time, she told the Comet: "We want a decent, reliable and regular bus service for Stevenage, which is no more than we should expect or deserve - a regular, safe and clean service for the whole of Stevenage."

A number of changes came into force on Sunday, February 19.


An appeal to track down a missing tricycle, after an elderly woman fell and ended up in hospital, was a success. 

Doris Hawes was badly hurt when she came off her electric tricycle had the three-wheeler 'taken' when she on her way to hospital.

The Comet: Doris' tricycle was returned after she fell off it Doris' tricycle was returned after she fell off it (Image: Courtesy of James Gotman)

However, following an appeal by the Comet, her trike was returned to her. 

Reading the appeal, a man called Craig contacted Doris' grandson James to explain that his workmate, a "keen skip diver", had seen the tricycle and thought it had been abandoned.

"As I work on bikes, he asked me if I can fix it. The weld at the folding part of the frame was broken off. My dad was keen to work on in it. He's been working on it this past weekend, while I was on holiday."

March also saw Letchworth's Norton Road closed for the installation of a pedestrian crossing, after years of campaigning, and work began on a major housing development on the former Matalan site in Stevenage. 


In April, Hitchin Boys' School said goodbye to inspirational PE teacher Chris Bajak on Friday, March 31, after more than 20 years of service.

The Comet: Chris Bajak receives a silver salver at a presentation on Thursday, March 30.Chris Bajak receives a silver salver at a presentation on Thursday, March 30. (Image: Hitchin Boys' School)

Andy McPherson, assistant head and former head of PE at the school, said: "It is no surprise to anyone that the national sporting success the school has achieved over the last few years has been directly down to Chris.

"He is not only the heartbeat of the PE department, he is also an inspiration to us all and the epitome of what a modern-day PE teacher should be.

"We wish him the very best success at Mill Hill in what is his dream role."

Hitchin also welcome a new bar at the former CHIC site and we met the street food business taking the town by storm.


Plans for a Morrisons supermarket to be built in Stevenage were approved back in May.

Morrisons has permission to knock down a former business unit on the corner of Cartwright Road and Wedgwood Way, and build a superstore and petrol station in its place. 

According to Stevenage Borough Council officers, more than 190 people had written to the authority in support of the scheme.

The Comet: A new Morrisons store will be built in StevenageA new Morrisons store will be built in Stevenage (Image: Whittam Cox/Stevenage Borough Council)

But at a planning committee meeting on Thursday, May 25, councillors discussed what the developer and local authorities could do to make it easier for cyclists, drivers and bus passengers to get to the shops.

The Comet asked Morrisons for an update on this earlier this month, when they confirmed there was no update on the building plans just yet. 

Also in May, there was also excitement around Hollywood star Winona Ryder being spotted in Preston, near Hitchin, reportedly filming for the sequel to 80s classic, Beetlejuice. 

The Comet: Winona Ryder spotted near HitchinWinona Ryder spotted near Hitchin (Image: ISO Images)


There was plenty to make the headlines back in June. Staff from Peartree Spring Primary School celebrated winning a prestigious UK-wide Primary School of the Year award.

The Comet: Peartree Spring Primary SchoolPeartree Spring Primary School (Image: Peartree Spring Primary School)

Peartree Spring Primary School fought off competition from the UK's other 17,000 primary schools to bring home the gong from the TES Awards at London's Grosvenor House Hotel on Friday, June 23.

Much to the delight of shoppers, TK Maxx relocated from Stevenage's town centre to the Roaring Meg Retail park.

The store in The Forum closed on Monday, June 26, however, the chain will opened its new store just three days later.


Sadly, a devastating fire ripped through Baldock's industrial area, impacting many businesses in the town. 

Firefighters from Hertfordshire Fire & Rescue Service raced to the scene in London Road after being called at 6.15pm on July 11, and remained at the fire as of 10.30pm, having declared a "major incident".

The Comet: Devastating fire in Baldock's London RoadDevastating fire in Baldock's London Road (Image: Taysa Almeida)

Aerial footage showed buildings well ablaze, with smoke rising high in the evening sky as brave firefighters attempted to take the fire. 

And in a month were Barbie-mania took over, Hertfordshire was not immune. One Stevenage dancer donned her best pink outfit and took part in the movie. 

Zara Richards owns the Warriorz performing arts academy and told the Comet she feels "very blessed" to feature in the blockbuster film.

The Comet: Zara Richards was invited to the premiere of the new Barbie movieZara Richards was invited to the premiere of the new Barbie movie (Image: Zara Richards)

Zara has lived in Stevenage her entire life, and is now a professional dancer and choreographer. She was one of only 70 dancers - including 30 women - to be selected for the film from more than 10,000 who initially auditioned.


Plans to build a £900m Life Science campus in Stevenage, which will be one of Europe’s largest, were approved in August.

The campus will provide 1.6 million sq ft of lab and office space, as well as creating 5,000 new jobs.

The Comet: Life science campusLife science campus (Image: Reef Group)

It will sit alongside GSK’s existing Global R&D facility and Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst, and incorporate the UK’s Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult.

Olivia Drew, portfolio manager for real estate and private markets at UBS Asset Management, said:  "The new campus will support thousands of new jobs and boost the UK’s position as a global life sciences leader."

Also making the headlines were planning permission for the former PC World in Stevenage to become a storage facility, and a man getting a fright after finding a snake in his garden. 


Sir Lewis Hamilton paid a visit to his hometown in September, to champion its STEM offering.

The Comet: Lewis Hamilton's visit to StevenageLewis Hamilton's visit to Stevenage (Image: Mission 44)

Two years ago, the Stevenage-born F1 driver founded his Mission 44 charity, which has now teamed up with a range of organisations - including North Hertfordshire College (NHC), Stevenage Borough Council (SBC), Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, and the University of Hertfordshire - to launch the Pioneering Young STEM Futures programme.

Talking to BBC Breakfast about his motivation for the project, Sir Lewis said: "I remember vividly just how difficult it was when I was a kid. We want these kids - they are the future, there's so much they can do but they need help.


In October, Hitchin welcomed a new cocktail bar to its bustling town centre offerings.

Bridgetown Monroe promised "experience and energy" when it opened its doors in Bucklersbury. 

Owner Chris Dodd describes it as "the perfect location".

The Comet: Bridgetown Monroe opened in Hitchin in OctoberBridgetown Monroe opened in Hitchin in October (Image: Courtesy of Chris Dodd)

He explained: "Bridgetown Monroe started off as a mobile bar travelling the country. We rocked up in a 1970 Chevy pickup truck and had the flatbed converted into a rum bar. "

It was also announced that Busted would be performing at Hitchin Priory next year. 

The Comet: Busted is coming to Hitchin in 2024Busted is coming to Hitchin in 2024 (Image: Brick PR Agency)

The show is set for August 29, 2024, with around 8,000 tickets going on sale this Thursday at 10am.

Busted's performance is the first announcement for the brand-new Hitchin Priory Summer Series, which will see a host of unconfirmed acts putting on a series of outdoor concerts at the Hertfordshire venue.


Pints have not been poured at the Rose & Crown in Aston since December 2014, but they are set to flow again as it prepares to open its doors again in June next year - it was announced in November.

A campaign group was organised, led by resident Steve Brown, and acting as Rose & Crown Aston Ltd.

The Comet: Rose and Crown in AstonRose and Crown in Aston (Image: Rose & Crown Action Group)

They were able to reach a deal with the developers in 2022, whereby the new company supported a smaller housing scheme on part of the land, and in return they would be able to purchase the pub building, its car park, and a small garden.

Stevenage also welcomed the BBC Question Time panel back in November.


Amid celebrating the festive season, the Comet headlines continued. 

The popular festive tractor tour returned to North Herts to the delight of many visitors, all in aid of Garden House Hospice Care.

The Comet:

And viral train station cat Nala not only offered a helping paw at the Stevenage Christmas lights switch on, she also made a bid for Christmas number 1 with her charity single.