Wednesday, April 16, 2014

News: Rotherham sets example for retail revival

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"You give us the money and we'll make it work." That was the message from the Labour leader of Rotherham Council to the Tory minister for high streets, town centres and markets, as they opened the newest retail outlet on Rotherham's revitalised High Street, alongside leading retail marketing consultant, Mary Portas.

The evidence is there for all to see. Firstly, the government has stumped over £350,000 to support the council and its town team partners in realising its vision to create a vibrant and thriving town centre with a different retail offer by fostering new, independent businesses.

And secondly, Roger Stone is right, the funding has been used wisely, with the opening of over 80 shops and an overall increase of 13% in pedestrian foot flow in the past three years.

Granted, in those three years, some national and independent retailers have closed their Rotherham stores. Ethel Austin, Internacionale, and Co-op Travel have found the climate tough and closed stores in towns and cities throughout the UK, not just Rotherham.

Helping to go a long way to fill the voids in the South Yorkshire town that has been identified as having the highest amount of retail competition in the UK, are independent retailers supported by the council's Business Vitality Grants Scheme, which since 2009 has supported over 20 businesses to get started, offering help towards rent and fit-out costs for retailers that have potential to widen the appeal and drive footfall for the benefit of all businesses.

Pop-up shops have also been successful with the council offering a prime retail unit in the refurbished Imperial Buildings on flexible and attractive lease terms to help businesses get up and running. After an initial trial, Vintage Dolls has this month celebrated its first birthday.

The most recent addition to Rotherham's retail mix is the Makers Emporium, a project offering 3,000 sq ft of retail space on a temporary basis to more than 30 local entrepreneurs and designers to launch their products and test the market.

Physical regeneration is also taking place on the High Street with local retailer Chris Hamby progressing the next stage of the heritage-led project to bring historic buildings back into use.

Miele Delicatessen, a new Italian deli has also opened in the refurbished former Muntus department store on the High Street, selling a range of authentic food and quality coffee.

High Streets Minister Brandon Lewis and retail expert Mary Portas visited Rotherham to see first hand the progress being made and to officially open the Makers Emporium.
Brandon Lewis MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government who has the responsibility for improving high streets and town centres, said: "Rotherham is a prime example of how a struggling town centre can be turned around into a success story, and in the last three years 86 new businesses have opened their doors in the high street.

"The town has grabbed the opportunities offered to it and is a great example of how our high streets can become shopping destinations that serve the whole community. It's an example to other town centres around the country."

Having last visited Rotherham town centre in 2011 as part of her Government-commissioned review into the nation's High Street, Mary Portas met with some of the independent retailers, the town team and Chris Hamby. She said: "I'm bursting with pride at everything that's been achieved in Rotherham.

"The town team have done an extraordinary job increasing footfall and reducing vacancy rates but most of all producing a place people want to shop in and feel at home in. They have huge competition from some of the UK's biggest shopping malls right on the doorstep but they are bearing out the national statistics that people prefer high streets."

Joining independent retailers like colourful gift shop, Patchwork Pig, and specialists in all things manly, Things That Boys Like, the former Snafu rock bar has been transformed into a light and airy retail space selling locally-designed and hand-crafted products.

Funded by the Government's High Street Renewal Award and delivered in partnership between the council, The Source and Rotherham Youth Enterprise, The Makers Emporium aims to support new start-businesses looking to trade for the first time, raise awareness of their products and see what it takes to run their own business.

Makers include Our Tiny Bees, Badger & Kingdom, Oddle Doddle Jewellery, Poco Nido, Seraphina Pearl Designs and Panache par Paris.

Terry Cooper of Tea Wear Recycled Cutlery, who works with metal and wood to create unique items of jewellery and homewares, sold Mary Portas a set of coat hooks fashioned from recycled ornate spoons. He summed up the new project: "When everywhere looks the same and you could be stood on any High Street in the UK, what we need is something unique. This place is, and it just lifts everything."

Makers Emporium website
Rotherham town centre website

Images: Tom Austen / Miele Delicatessen / Twitter

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