Get behind the Team, is message to shopkeepers

Morpeth Food and Drink Festival
Morpeth Food and Drink Festival

Business owners and shopkeepers are being urged to take a stake in how the town of Morpeth promotes itself and attracts more visitors and shoppers over the next few years.

Partners in a Town Team initiative to seal Morpeth’s place as the premier market town of Northumberland have just prepared a five-year strategic plan to do just that, as well as committing their own resources to a funding budget to support some of its aims and objectives.

Now they are urging local shops and businesses to join them in a marketing and events’ planning campaign to not only increase the visitor footfall in Morpeth, but to encourage more local residents to shop in and use the town centre.

A recent benchmarking survey has discovered that many local residents admit to still doing their shopping outside the town, as well as, of course, increasingly making purchases online — and that is a pattern the Town Team is keen to challenge.

The Team, consisting of representatives from Morpeth Town Council, the Greater Morpeth Development Trust, Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, Sanderson Arcade and Inside Morpeth magazine, was formed after working together to bid for funding support from a Government initiative to boost what it saw as ailing high streets across the country.

Fronted by shopping guru Mary Portas, it initially handed out grants of £100,000 to a dozen towns across the country. Morpeth wasn’t one of them, but was given £10,000 with the help of Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery, which the team has used to market the town and organise events, such as a successful food and drink festival attended by thousands of people.

The Team also put its weight behind the campaign to lift car parking charges in Morpeth, a move which is being credited as bringing many more visitors and shoppers into the town.

This October the food and drink event that has proved hugely popular over the past two years will again he held, while the Town Team will also be offering support to major crowd-pullers, such as next month’s Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering and June’s Morpeth Fair Day organised by the Chamber of Trade.

This year Sanderson Arcade is also organising a fashion show, which it hopes could be the forerunner of a bigger event taking in more shops across the town in the form of a full-blown Morpeth fashion week.

“These are all important dates on the calendar that bring very many visitors into Morpeth,” said Sanderson Arcade Manager Medi Parry, who as well as being a key member of the Town Team, also chairs a Stakeholder Group, set up as an open forum through which more business owners, shopkeepers, schools and local organisations can contribute ideas and feedback on what more needs to be done to promote the town.

“What we would love to hear are more innovative and imaginative ideas from the business and retail sectors, as well as residents, that we could consider to see if they would work in Morpeth,” she said.

“Mary Portas herself has said that town centres are more than just places where people shop.

“They need to be vibrant and exciting places; centres people should want to visit and be entertained in the broadest sense of the word.”

The Town Team has just published its third colourful and informative Morpeth leaflet, copies of which will be widely available in places such as major attractions, garden centres, retail outlets, bed and breakfasts and hotels across the North East, in a bid to put the town on the map as a visitor location.

The next Town Team Stakeholder Group meeting will be held on Thursday, March 26, at 10am, at the Sanderson Arcade offices, and businesses and retailers will be welcome to attend.

Ideas for events could also be sent to Ms Parry before then for the group to consider.

Whilst it is important for more visitors to be encouraged into Morpeth, the Town Team is also conscious of the need to address the question of why local people are shopping outside the town. So its members are looking at ways to circulate a questionnaire seeking the views and opinions of residents about why they do that.

“Hopefully that will give us the feedback we need and can address,” said Ms Parry.

“Even if all the people who are shopping outside the town just spent a few pounds a week locally, that would make a huge difference to the overall turn-over of Morpeth’s shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs and service businesses.”

At a recent Morpeth Town Team open meeting traders and businesses also saw a demonstration of how a simple-to-use loyalty card scheme could work, rewarding shoppers for spending their money locally if it was introduced in the town.

More information on that scheme can be made available through the development trust on 01670 503866.

“These are just a number of thinking-outside-the-box initiatives the Town Team will be following up,” said Ms Parry.

“It is important for people to understand that we are not just a ‘talking shop’, but a group of partners determined to work together for the good of Morpeth by successfully making things happen.

“Equally, it is important that people, shops and businesses acknowledge that we don’t have the exclusive rights in deciding what more can be done to promote and market Morpeth and organise events that will encourage people to want to visit Morpeth.

“We need the support, backing and ideas of as many people as possible if we are to succeed in doing that.”