Busy High Street

Posted by Sharon Eason on 26 November 2013 | 0 Comments

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Get your High Street Buzzing

It has been a real pleasure and an honour to work alongside the Coalville Town Team to create the first ever Coalville Food Drink and Music Festival which it was hoped would bring people into the town centre.  This is our story, which I hope will encourage others to work together to get your town buzzing.

Coalville was once a thriving mining community, but as the coal ran out in the local coalfields, so the town started to slip down the ladder of prosperity.  Recently it has been fortunate to be in the Coalfield Regeneration area and much needed new companies have been attracted into the town.  Largely occupying newly built industrial areas, close to the motorway junction, many of the new companies are focussed on warehousing and distribution and feature well known national companies each employing well over 100 people each in the local depots.  Quarrying remains a major employer with three large quarries within the perimeter of the town, with a multi-national and a local consortium being represented.

The town centre itself has seen better days.  Right at the heart of the town, across the road from the War Memorial stands a disused and boarded up pub.  Travel down the hill and you pass what used to be Woolworths and several other vacant shops.  More vacant units become apparent as you head through the purpose-built pedestrianised shopping precinct.  Leave the precinct and head up the hill towards the Council Offices and still more vacant units stare you in the face  As more shops closed, so the footfall in the town dropped, with people going out of town to do their regular shopping. Something had to be done and quickly.

The Coalville Town Team comprises a group of men and women who care - pure and simple.  Some are successful businessmen running a variety of different businesses in the town, others are young mothers or recently retired, and a few have new startup businesses in the town.  The common denominator is a determination to work together, using the talents each brings to the table to show people just what Coalville could be - with a little bit of co-operation and a can-do attitude.  No-one is paid to be on the team; quite the reverse, all the team members were happy to donate both time and money to get the food and drink event off the ground..

Although plenty of funding applications were made, the Team were not able to raise any financial support, and so decided that the only way was to go it alone and show people just what can be achieved if you have the will.  Local companies were approached to sponsor the event.  Only a handful responded financially, whilst most declined politely with the most common reply being, "You don't have a track record.  If it is a success this year, we will think about sponsoring you next."  How often have new businesses heard that!!

Undeterred, plans were discussed and we began to approach potential traders -  our research started with the Where to Shop and Where to Dine pages of this website, as known local food outlets appear here.  We were fortunate in having marketing professionals on the team who swung into action to publicise the event.  Space was generously donated by a local company for advertisements to appear within the local paper, and the local radio station offered to make a commercial for us as their contribution to the day.  The publicity machine rolled along with a further sales push to ensure we had sufficient traders on board to create a realistic food and drink event.  Than came the need to ensure we had sufficient entertainment showcasing different styles of music to amuse all ages and tastes.

It was by no means all plain sailing.  Right up to the last minute we were still negotiating with the local council to ensure that the traders would not be penalised for parking beyond the 3 hour limit.  Not only were the public charged for car parking, but the number of traffic wardens was the highest ever seen on a Saturday! 

At the last minute we had to hunt out new bands as a couple of those we had booked succombed to the winter ills.  A day or two before the event it even looked as if we were not going to have any power for the trade stands and then out of the blue a Christmas Tree appeared right where we had intended to have the main entertainment in the centre of the precinct.  Everything can be overcome with determination, and we simply re-arranged the stall and stage area to feature the Christmas Tree.

Sometimes it seemed that everything and everyone was against us.  As we solved one problem another reared up to bite us, but each time we just pulled together, relied on the person with the appropriate talents and got on with the job.  We were going to give Coalville a day to remember.  On Friday evening as the final preparations had been completed, gazebos erected and the precinct gates locked for the night we knew that there were two elements of the day over which we had no control - the weather and the footfall at the event. 

Before daybreak on Saturday the Team, bolstered by additional volunteers, congregated in the car park.  Already the first traders had arrived.  As we began the task of helping to off-load vehicles, site traders on the correct pitches and help to physically carry their equipment and stock from their vehicles across the paved area, so more problems arose.  The power supply tripped out keeping the electrician busy as he traced the problem and reset the system.  The opening time was officially 10:00 am.  As the hour approached the stall holders were set and ready to go.  All we needed was the public, preferably with their purses.

Slowly people began to arrive and to browse.  By mid-day the whole precinct was buzzing.  Trade was brisk for both the stallholders and the shop-keepers on the precinct.  Almost every stall sold out.  One baker had had to bring in extra supplies that had been ear-marked for an event on Sunday, leaving her with a baking job for Saturday evening.  Needless to say she was not grumbling at all.

The car parks were packed, and still people flooded into the town.  At one point a shop had to stop anyone else going in until the queue for the tills had cleared.  Another local shop reported four times its normal Saturday trade.  Meanwhile the ice-skating rink was going down great guns with the local children - whilst their parents enjoyed a hot cup of coffee and watched their antics.

The whole area was packed with enthusiastic people, happy to support both the stallholders and the local shops.  "Why don't you do this more often?" I was asked many, many times.  "Its great to see Coalville alive" and "I've not seen the town busy for years" were comments heard regularly as I walked around the event.

So what happens now?  The Coalville Town Team have proved that there is public support aplenty for shopping in the town centre, and much as the event was popular and there is demand for us to repeat it at regular intervals, on its own it is not the solution. 

To revitalise the town centre needs teamwork and determination from local government, landowners and financial institutions to enable new, fledgling businesses to come into the centre of town.  Small family businesses need help.  Start-up units need to be provided at low rents and rates.  Many towns have empty units which are much too big for family businesses, for example former department stores, but if the owners had a little vision and allowed them to be broken into smaller units, at really low rents, just maybe they would see them filled, and start to realise an income.  After all 50% of owt is better than 100% of nowt.

Developers need to be allowed to convert unused buildings into starter units.  A little determination could transform some of the most ugly and depressing sights into bright new start-up shops.  Planners must become more flexible and imaginative, allowing change of use and ensuring a mix of shop sizes across the town, rather than ending up with zones of similar outlets.  An interesting and varied shopping environment will attract shoppers and retain them.

The legal system needs considerable reform.  Why does it need such complicated documentation to enable a business to occupy a building?  Why does it take so long?  New businesses can go out of business waiting for the process to grind to its ultimate conclusions.  Cashflow is king, and stagnating, waiting for a long legal debate to be conducted can take up all the available resources before trading can start at all.

Money on its own is not the solution.  We have seen that with the Mary Portas experiments.  What is needed from Government at National and local level is a large pair of scissors to cut through the red tape and allow towns to take the initiative to help all independent retailers to thrive and to grow, bringing the crowds back on a regular basis.

Once the will is there to bring new business to the town, further events like this Satuday's Food Drink and Music Festival will be a wonderful way to introduce the new shops and their wares to the public, who would then continue to support local enterprise by buying local food, clothes and other products, and keeping money circulating in the local economy.

Together we can make it work. We just need the will to see a route through the barriers to success.

 



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