Thursday, April 17, 2014

News: Portas positive post Rotherham return

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Mary Portas, the leading retail consultant called on by the Government to review the nation's High Street, has taken to Facebook to discuss her recent return visit to Rotherham. Here's the post in full:

It's great Up North!

I took a trip to Rotherham yesterday and it’s hard to say just how excited I was with what I saw. Rotherham was one of the original Portas Pilot towns and when I visited in September 2011, as part of the fact finding for the Portas review, it's fair to say that things were not great.

The Local Data Company was regularly giving them top spot for the number of vacant retail properties (unfairly as it turned out), the Guardian were knocking them and using Rotherham as a reason why, in their view, we should give up on the High Street. It was all too easy for everybody to be critical and to use Rotherham as the poster child for boarded up Britain.

When I first met them, the Town Team were already ahead of the game. They had a huge task but you could just tell that they were going to give it a massive go. They also had a huge advantage – that the Local Authority was one of the sadly all too rare "enlightened" ones who already had High Street regeneration at the top of their strategic priorities list.

The government chose them as a Pilot town and then they also gained extra funding from British Land and The High Street Renewal Fund and yesterday Brandon Lewis, the Minister with responsibility for the High Street and I made a visit to see how they are getting on.

It's just fantastic! The High Street is transformed, new shops are open, ones that have been there for a while are revitalised, it looks and feels like a High Street again. Tumbleweed has been replaced by people. Footfall has grown (in 2011/12 by 8%!) and the vacancy rate is now one of the better ones for a comparable town at 14%. That's down from 29% (according to LDC) and a 4% decrease since 2010.

Let's just pause for a moment and think about that. 86 new businesses opened their doors in the last 3 years. 86 entrepreneurs who believe in Rotherham and who are having a go. That's the spirit that will sort out our most important community spaces and give them a future.

And what do local people think? Well, bear in mind this is all in the shadow of Meadowhall, but people are not only coming back but they like it. For example 35% of shoppers said that the main reason for visiting is that Rotherham had a good range of shops they liked compared to only 2% who said this in 2009.

Even better, 92% of shoppers are satisfied or very satisfied with the independent shopping offer (compared to 42% in 2009).

One of the most impressive shiny new things on the High Street is "The Makers Emporium." I love it. 3000 sq feet of flexible space at affordable rents that local craftspeople can use to both make their beautiful stuff and also to sell it. It's fabulously presented and I liked just about everything in there - my colleague's wife will be enjoying some of them as Birthday presents as he went a bit mad! Just two of the businesses are here – this fella makes clever coat hangers and so on from reclaimed cutlery. This business produces the cutest kids shoes and clothes.

How has all of this been achieved? Sheer grit and determination by heroes like Bernadette Rushton and Paul Woodcock amongst others but here's a list of what makes them a successful Pilot in my view – happy to take feedback on this btw.

• They saw it coming and started planning.
• Not being intimidated by something like Meadowhall – instead deciding to create an altogether more human alternative.
• Recognising that you have to change things and it will still take a while for perceptions even then – in other words it’s a long game.
• Rotherham are clever at raising money including match funding and spending it wisely.
• Their local authority are hugely supportive (for example using their ability to raise prudential funding at reasonable rates to support local businesses when the banks won't or can't help)
• Linking with The Source – the local training initiative to make sure there's a solid retail Learning and Development bedrock to this
• Thinking beyond retail - their plan also involves residential
• Be creative with retail – the Makers Emporium is gold!
• Integrating with the rest of the town centre
• Did I mention sheer Yorkshire grit and determination?

There's a way to go for Rotherham but as I said to the many journalists there yesterday, I am bursting with pride on what's been achieved so far. Viva Rotherham.

Martin Kimber, chief executive of Rotherham Council said: "Rotherham has made a real impression on Mary. She was full of praise the first time she visited us and we’re seen as a real beacon of success for the Portas Pilot."

Mary Portas website

Images: RMBC

1 comments:

richchap24 April 18, 2014 at 7:58 AM  

What effect will the gigantic Tesco have ....?

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