In this first of a regular series of articles on Morpeth Town Team, IAN LEECH outlines the progress of the initiative to date and how it intends to move forward.
Three years ago a Government initiative spearheaded by shopping ‘guru’ Mary Portas was launched inviting towns and cities across the country to bid for funding to assist in the revival of high streets suffering a down-turn in business because of the popularity of out-of-town superstores and the growth of internet online shopping.
Morpeth was one of very many towns and cities that submitted an application for funding of up to £100,000 that was eventually allocated to each of 12 ‘Portas Pilots’, including Newbiggin, before a similar number was announced in a second round of awards that included Berwick upon Tweed.
Morpeth was awarded a consolation £10,000 thanks to the support and backing of Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery.
Three years down the line, opinion remains divided on the success of the initiative. Mary Portas herself recently hinted on television that she felt she had she had been ‘used’ to front what was little more than a Government publicity stunt to suggest it was taking seriously any suggestions of a high street crisis, and that virtually none of her recommendations to improve the situation had been implemented.
Locally there have been reports of dissent among the initial Portas Pilots about how to best allocate project funding, and that little is perceived to have been achieved because of that.
However, while not being named as a pilot, Morpeth has astutely used the money it was given to help promote and market the town, as well as building on the formation of a Town Team that was brought together to submit the initial funding application.
That team, comprising core partners Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, Morpeth Town Council, the Greater Morpeth Development Trust and Sanderson Arcade, with the support of Inside Morpeth and underpinned by prominent developers, business people, schools, churches and community groups, continues to meet every month and has taken a number of significant strides forward recently.
The core partners have all contributed to an essential ongoing budget that will be matched funded by the town council to support the implementation of a five-year strategic plan they have drawn up to maintain and develop Morpeth’s status as the premier modern market town north of the Tyne, as well as promoting the ‘More in Morpeth’ brand.
The Morpeth Town Team will set out its plan at a public meeting on Tuesday, February 24, starting at 6pm, in the Town Hall.
Refreshments will be available from 5.30pm to encourage retailers and businesses to attend after their day’s work.
The core partners will all be present to launch the 2015 marketing and promotional plan, along with a new-look More in Morpeth website, and to explain how traders, retailers and businesses can contribute to the work of the Town Team through its stakeholder group.
There will also be the chance to hear details about the possible launch of Morpeth’s own shoppers’ loyalty card scheme.
The meeting is expected to last around one hour.
Greater Morpeth Development Trust Chief Executive David Lodge chairs the Town Team.
He said: “We may not have been given one of the top lump sums from the Portas Initiative, but we believe we have achieved a great deal more than some of the bidders who did.
“In fact, we consider Morpeth can lay claim to be a Portas success story because of the way the partners have worked together. Now we believe is the right time to take that partnership to the next level.
“What we have done is to drive forward the initiative by forming a permanent Town Team to draw together the core partners in a way that had not been done before so that we can all work together in a cohesive way for the benefit of the town, its retail and visitor sectors.
“All the core partners have indicated their commitment to the work of the Town Team by allocating money from their own resources to provide us with a budget to arrange events and promotional material to not only encourage local people to spend time in the town centre, but to draw in visitors from across the region.
“What we want to see at the meeting, however, is people coming along not just to hear what we have to say, but to tell us what more they think we should be doing on behalf of Morpeth.
“Partnership working is the key to what the Town Team can achieve and this important opportunity to become involved in its work is now there for many more people to take up.”