Monday, June 2, 2014

News: Portas highlights Rotherham town centre turnaround


Mary Portas has followed up the 2011 review into the nation's high streets by publishing a think piece on why they still matter, and again the retail guru has referenced the work taking place in Rotherham as a "beacon many should follow."

With many of the original recommendations, such as a national markets day and the Future High Street Forum, taken on board by the government, some, like wholesale changes to business rates and planning, have just been just tinkered with. The latest essay highlights the successes of towns which have followed her guidance.

Rotherham is a Portas Pilot, having secured £100,000 in government funding to use innovative local ideas to revitalise the town centre. The borough also secured extra funding from British Land and The High Street Renewal Fund.

Having last visited Rotherham town centre in 2011 as part of her Government-commissioned review, Mary Portas was back in the borough earlier this year. After seeing the success of heritage-led regeneration on the High Street, the support of entrepreneurial retailers in Pop-Up shops and the newly opened, Makers Emporium, Portas described the turnaround as fantastic and was bursting with pride at was has been achieved.

In the latest essay, entitled, "Why our High Streets Still Matter", Rotherham is used as a case study of how a local council has taken a very active role in the regeneration of a once desolate town centre.

The report picks out key statistics such as the 86 new businesses that have opened in the last three years and the reduction in vacant units on key shopping streets from over 20% to 14%, as well as the improvements in shopper satisfaction.

Also picked out for praise are a number of encouraging projects such as the popular Whistle Stop Sweet Shop & Temperance Bar, that has expanded with the backing of the council through the Portas Pilot funding.

Chris Hamby's ambitious plans to bring listed buildings on the High Street back to life is also praised, as is the way his vision was backed with an affordable loan by the council when the banks wouldn't.

The Makers Emporium, home to 30 local artisans and crafters, is also highlighted for the way in which a number of groups have come together to create an innovative retail space. It is described as an example of a very clever way to differentiate the High Street offer and become a destination.

In the report, Mary Portas, said: "The turnaround achieved in Rotherham is one of the best case studies I know.

"Collaboration at its finest; an inspired and talented Town Team, an enlightened and committed Local Authority, a busy and ambitious local college and a very supportive British Land.

"The results they've started to see are impressive to say the least. If you have an interest in High Streets, go and visit Rotherham and get the story first hand."

Rotherham town centre website
Portas Agency website

Images: RMBC


@redpola June 2, 2014 at 11:41 AM  

Rotherham looks good at the moment, but whilst it's impressive to put on a show- it's far more impressive to sustain an ongoing concern. My worry is how long this fun will last when the rent subsidies are all gone and the bank loans need repaying?

Example: Makers Emporium. Nice building, good position, keen staff, great products. Sadly the prices are huge and off-putting to the relatively-skint locals.

A route to sustainability would be to actually have people visiting Rotherham to buy these crafty and custom goods. Brand Rotherham as a craft and art centre. I don't see that happening and find that very short-sighted.

Much of the publicity of this venture is of how great Mary Portas is, when it should be how Rotherham is a destination for those wanting to buy from a newly-regenerated independent shop quarter.

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