TV’s Queen of Shops, Mary Portas, will be making her first visit to Nelson, Lancashire, on Tuesday 29 January after a visit to Stockport Portas Pilot in the morning. Nelson’s Town Team won £100,000 through the government-sponsored high street initiative fronted by Portas in May 2012. The Nelson bid proposed ways of tackling empty properties and bringing more young people into the town as well as hosting special events such as an Arts & Vintage market.
As the North West Town Team Advisor I have only recently got involved with the Nelson Portas Pilot (December 2012) but from the outset they have established an ‘engaged’ Town Team of local businesses, Council Officers and key partners. They have a clear action plan of what they want to achieve and have made some headway in implementing some of their bid proposals to date including a successful Arts & Vintage market in October, a ‘Flash Light’ based community event on Lancashire Day (24 November) and a student discount scheme. So far so good – but we can do better! As their Town Team Advisor I’m here to invigorate and inspire the Nelson Town Team to be more challenging, creative and community focused in their approach.
When representatives from Nelson met Mary last July to outline Nelson’s plans Mary said “It sounds like you have a challenge ahead in Nelson but I believe focusing on youth and their ideas is the right way to move your high street forward.
Mary Portas said: “We must focus efforts on creating lively and social places, especially for young people, to breathe new life into Nelson. This is Nelson’s big chance.It’s about creating a place that people want to feel part of – a sense of community so that people feel proud to say they are from Nelson”.
Cllr Paul White, who leads on regeneration at Pendle Council, said: “She’ll be hearing first hand how we’re taking action to breathe new life into Nelson, using the Portas funding we won last year.This was the foundation for the successful bid, together with fantastic teamwork between shop keepers, the college, Pendle Council, Pendle Leisure Trust and other organisations.”
I’ll be meeting Mary Portas in the Town Team meeting to discuss the plans and ideas set aside for Nelson before she takes a tour of the town with members of the Town Team. (Good luck there Mary – the weather is not looking good -gales & rain!)
So I’m all eyes & ears to hear what Mary has to offer in terms of her advice, excited to be part of such a high profile visit but realise there’s some hard graft ahead for Nelson & my other 50+ Town Teams in the North West.The Portas Review is just a first step; central and local government need to focus on realistic long term ambitions for town centres – not quick wins (and bring forward the business rate review as a matter of urgency). Town centres need to embrace the ‘Town Team’ approach and every opportunity they can to take control of their futures.