04 Sep 13
There are two different towns in two different counties. One town is on the seaside, the other is in the middle of England. The thing in common with both; they’re trying to buck the trend and both had failed “Portas Pilot” Bids.
The hot topic these days is the High Street or more accurately, Saving the High Street. The government and Mary Portas all have their views splashed all over the newspapers and various internet sites such as the BBC however the views of the independent traders are still being ignored. I admit that some of Ms Portas ideas are valid and the Mike Grimesy report via the Guardian has merit but why aren’t they getting to the heart of the problem and speak with the people at the sharp end.
Towns like Swanage and Warwick have been taking things into their own hands after failing to secure £100k of funds to help regenerate the towns and High Streets. Go it alone groups are springing up everywhere, trying to access funding from all areas of local government. Warwick managed to access funding through the County Council’s Operation Footfall scheme, while down in Swanage, Dorset. They’ve had to go a different route.
The Swanage & Purbeck Hospitality Association Understand that they are one of the big winners by having a thriving tourism market which in turn makes for a vibrant town centre. (Currently Swanage has less than 7% vacancy rates on its High Street.) So the Association set up and pay into a fund that is used to benefit the town as a whole.
When an individual or group has an idea that will increase footfall, the association, after reviewing & approving the plan, will underwrite it. After speaking with a guesthouse owner, it appears that many festivals, including the forthcoming Folk Festival and a Comedy Festival have all been supported in their infancy by the Hospitality sector and now both festivals are fully self reliant. I may also add that the festivals bring in large numbers of visitors and helps to extend the “season” for the town.
So, could or should this type of idea be up and running in Warwick. After all there is a strong hospitality sector and everyone accepts that this area always gains the most from events such as the recent Food & Film Festival. Warwick now has the WarwickRocks group which try to access funding solely to promote the town, which of course benefits all sectors of the trading environment.
The business owners voted No to a BID for various reasons, however can business owners of all sectors believe that the council will keep funding various initiatives such as Operation Footfall? Or groups like WarwickRocks to be successful in gaining more funds?
It maybe time to get our thinking heads on with regard to funding these small groups of forward thinking individuals. They’re willing and able but it costs to implement new initiatives that can save the High Street.