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Another investment in our local businesses - 20th Jul

Another investment in our local businesses - 20th Jul

Last week, Cabinet members considered an annual report on the health of Ashford’s town centre. Furthermore, councillors also accepted a recommendation that the council invests £10,000 in a second phase of its successful business-mentoring programme.

The report illustrates just how far Ashford town centre has come since 2012, when it successfully applied to be part of the Portas Pilot. In 2012, Ashford’s vacancy rate was 19%. Now it is 8.8%, below the national average of 9.5%.

Ashford has also:

  • Launched the UK’s first digital high street, LoveAshford.com, which promotes town centre businesses and through blogs guides shoppers to offers and deals in Ashford town centre
  • Acquired Park Mall Shopping Centre as a direct result of residents’ concerns that it was tired and rundown
  • Provided drive and impetus to transform Park Mall, increase its footfall by 8%, reduced its number of empty units from 11 to just two, and make it a destination for those wishing to visit quality independent retailers
  • Managed Made in Ashford, which sees multiple start-ups test their business on the High Street in a unique shop in Park Mall
  • Seen businesses such as The Record Store move from incubator spaces to larger premises within Park Mall, given the success they have enjoyed with their high-street offer
  • Been active in the Healthy High Street Programme
  • Introduced the Town Centre Action Team (T-CAT), who been a visible presence and have enhanced the appearance of both Ashford town centre and Tenterden High Street
  • Seen its in-house grounds maintenance team Aspire Landscape Management admired for its floral displays in the town centre and across the borough
  • Delivered a business-mentoring scheme specifically supporting independent businesses, which account for 58% of shops in Ashford town centre – this has been attributable to the success of Jane’s Boutique, which is another business to have expanded to larger premises following its successful trial of an incubator space

It is the last of these points that members acknowledged has been key to the resurgence in Ashford’s High Street. Ashford’s small town centre regeneration team has built solid relationships with retailers and more trust between traders and the council. This has led to the council having a better understanding of the type of support required and traders believing in the vision and retail experience the council now has.

There is a clear strategy in place and change is now evident, with more people seeing that the council’s long-term aspirations to improve the town are being fulfilled. The ‘Big 8’ projects are under way, which will increase town centre footfall still further, and vastly improve the night-time economy. In fact, of the £519m investment in projects in the borough as a whole, it is estimated that £360m is being invested in Ashford town centre.

The significance of the business-mentoring programme, which the council has delivered with IBD Group, is that it has:

  • Delivered specific support for independent businesses
  • Harnessed technology, and seen businesses embrace its power rather than run scared of the competition it can bring
  • Seen bespoke literature produced to really enable each business to make the most out of social media
  • Identified the business model for individual businesses
  • Developed marketing and branding ideas for each business and given them greater confidence to be bolder in their own promotional activity
  • Built in greater resilience for the independent businesses because although Ashford has created a point of difference with its volume of independent retailers, they are more likely to require business support

Therefore, members agreed to fund an extended second phase of the business-mentoring programme that will help Ashford town centre retain its independent core of businesses and continue to offer something different to residents and visitors into the long term.

Cllr Graham Galpin, Ashford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for corporate property, said: “I am pleased cabinet colleagues were able to see the strength of the influence that the council’s small team of officers has had in the revitalisation of Ashford town centre. I am very proud of their achievements and their ability to create a new and inclusive vigour into relationships between businesses and ourselves.

“The purchase of Park Mall has been vindicated in that it has provided a new and thriving aspect to the town. It has not been an easy progress but the centre is practically full. We should also be very proud of Love Ashford, our digital high street. It is the model most copied but never equalled by other towns.

“The provision of business support has been vital in helping many smaller businesses and I am delighted that a further £10,000 has been put towards this project. The major regeneration projects that are in the delivery phase now will only further enhance and augment the position Ashford town centre currently finds itself in.” 

Media release 0203/17
For further information, please contact our Press Office on 01233 330543 or email mark.james@ashford.gov.uk

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