Town turns to feel-good factor for funding race

KEY Morpeth organisations are hoping that the town’s feel-good factor will continue with success in a Government scheme.

And the Portas Pilot team has more reason to be optimistic as extra support measures have been announced to help revitalise high streets across the UK.

The economic development forum, led by Morpeth Town Council, Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade and the Greater Morpeth Development Trust (GMDT), submitted its bid for up to £100,000 the day after the town’s one-way system came to an end.

Those involved have set out how the money could help them to develop ideas to attract extra shoppers and visitors to the town centre and hopefully encourage businesses to fill empty units.

Morpeth will be bustling with activity this month as the Northumbrian Gathering and other events are taking place and the team will be able to continue the momentum if it is announced as one of the 12 winners in May because most of the funding, £60,000, would be spent within a year.

But the Government revealed this week that there will be a further round of Portas Pilots available to those who miss out along with a £1million Future High Street X-Fund, which will be awarded in a year’s time to the locations which deliver the most creative and effective schemes to improve their high streets.

A total of £500,000 has also been set aside for a Business Improvement Districts project that will help town centres access loans for business set-up costs.

The vision of Morpeth’s application is to retain its traditional market town features, but introduce a modern focus so people of all ages will want to shop, eat and socialise.

GMDT Chief Executive David Lodge said: “This forum has brought organisations and businesses closer together with a common goal of promoting the town centre and attracting shoppers.

“Morpeth’s big events should once again be very popular and this year they all have an Olympic theme. Our Picnic in the Park will be held over two days, July 28 and 29, and on the Saturday people can try out a range of sporting activities.

“What we’re working on is putting a programme together so that things are happening on most weekends between the big events and we’re looking to introduce some schemes which will add value to the town.

“The plan also deals with the evening economy and hopefully we can build on the success of the monthly cinema screenings. Both young and old are coming along to the film nights, which are run entirely by volunteers, and we’re asking some businesses if they can stay open for an extra couple of hours on these days.”

Specific projects mentioned in the bid include a loyalty card that could be used in shops across the town centre, a weekend park and ride scheme from County Hall to maximise car parking space, further development of the More in Morpeth brand and an initiative led by the existing Markets Partnership to run a range of different events, including a Shopkeepers’ Market showcasing the town’s independent shops in the Market Place.

A mobile phone Morpeth app detailing the town’s heritage, attractions and walks, as well as businesses available in the town centre and special offers, and a Morpeth Mobile Showcase, which would take a taster of Morpeth shops out into the surrounding villages, are also planned.

A promotional video put together by Nicky Wall, Media Manager at Collingwood School and Media Arts College, includes members of the team, business owners and residents saying what they like about where they live, the challenges facing the town centre and what they want to see in the future, along with footage of the Christmas Lights, Northumbrian Gathering and Fair Day.

A number of supporting letters have been sent from businesses and community groups, including the Morpeth Herald.

Coun Ken Brown, who led the bid team, said: “We think we have a sound case that has been well presented to the Government and we’ve been helped enormously by the phenomenal response to our call for support.

“We have a good base from which to build, but we can achieve a lot more and this funding would allow all the projects identified in the plan to go ahead in the next few years.

“The competition will be tough for this and other funding pots we may apply for, but even if we’re unsuccessful it has certainly not been a wasted effort.

“For example, the town team will be able to feed directly into the Morpeth neighbourhood planning and county council local development framework schemes to ensure that planning policies are developed to support our high street.”