Retailers in winning town centres look forward to sharing in £1.2m fund and receiving ‘tailored support’.
Free parking, events and business advice for retailers are among the measures indies hope will revive the 12 town centres chosen to be part of the Government’s Portas Pilots scheme.
Last Saturday (May 26), local government minister Grant Shapps chose bids from Bedford, Bedminster, Croydon, Dartford, Liskeard, Margate, Market Rasen, Nelson, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Stockport, Stockton-on-Tees and Wolverhampton out of a total of 370 to be Portas Pilots. Each will get a share of a £1.2m fund and “tailored support”.
Retail guru Mary Portas, who fronts the scheme, said she had been “deeply touched by both the quality and creativity of the bids”, which were required to demonstrate how best they would implement measures set out in her High Street Review, commissioned by the Government last May to turn around the UK’s ailing high streets.
Christina Rowe, director of operations at BedfordBID, who spearheaded the town’s application, explained the next step would be to mobilise the town team, assigning responsibility and roles. Bedford’s bid pledged to turn empty shops into sales and support units for other businesses by building on an existing ‘We are Bedford’ project which uses empty shops as pop-up venues.
“It’s about having the opportunity to link into Mary Portas and her network and help influence some important government decisions,” she said.
Gio Caruso, owner of Bedford menswear indie Conte di Savoia, said he hoped the money would be ploughed into free parking: “There’s no footfall in Bedford because everyone goes to Milton Keynes. There’s no parking around here. Free parking would be a massive help.”
Dartford’s winning bid will see more market trading days and training for local business owners. The owner of one womenswear indie in the town said the news was “fantastic”, adding: “Offering free parking on the days when the market is on will help increase footfall.”
In Wolverhampton, Grace Barby, owner of young fashion indie Grace and Glory, said although “anything” to help the town was welcome, a share of £1.2m would not be enough for a real impact.
She said: “You could get a good advertising campaign going for this kind of money but you need shops to be filled.”
Some indies were unaware of their towns’ winning bids. “We haven’t been consulted on anything, so I haven’t a clue what it might mean for us,” said one womenswear indie in Bedminster.