We’re well over 6 months into our Portas Journey and it’s been a roller-coaster ride, but one we’ve enjoyed.
This document sets out some of our high-lights and challenges, based around the initial promises we made in our bid.
But before we launch into the detail, here are a few insights into our approach and how we feel we’ve managed to achieve a BIG impact in a small space of time:
We did the ground work in consulting our business community. All the ideas in our town
transformation came from grass roots – we simply packaged their ideas into Portas-
We didn’t hang around waiting for a win. We got busy with our town transformation plan
and threw our first ‘pop-up’ market regardless!
Once we heard about our win, we took immediate action to get a constitution in place.
We decided that a CIC format was right for us, so we registered ourselves and got an
elected Board in place.
We developed a strong and positive working relationship with WLDC. Their support has
served us well.
It took us a while to get the funds in place – we didn’t let it stop us and probably did us
a favour. It made us realise that huge amounts can be done without the need for lots of
We embraced Social Media from the outset. Our on-line community has supported us
every step of the way!
We’ve done everything we can to develop good local media relations – recognising that
they would be key to keeping the public up to date along the way.
We recognised that resourcing would be a challenge from the outset, so we budgeted for
staff – a Town Centre Manager and supporting Apprentice.
Our original bid was simple and focused. We’ve had plenty of opportunity and pressure
to broaden our scope, but we’ve been determined to maintain our focus.
PROMISE NO 1 TIDY UP OUR TOWN
We wanted to improve the look and feel of our town to make it a more welcoming, inviting and pleasant place to be.
With just £4K camped in the budget for this project (and with none of this spent to date), it was always going to be challenging to give our town a complete facelift. However the media interest we secured immediately following our win, gave our business and property owners a good reason to take matters into their own hands, painting and maintaining their properties.
- We agreed a heritage colour palette for painting and decoration with WLDC planning department
- We lobbied WLDC to fast track repair work on ‘The Goldmine’ – a near derelict building and main town eyesore. It has now been renovated
- Notices have now been served on a range of premises to try and bring them in to line with town standards
- Our Market Place was tackled early on by volunteers
- Our Auction Shed (at the back of the market place) is now contract cleaned
- We collaborated with our Town Council on plans for the jubilee and Christmas to ensure the town was decorated
- A recent town walkabout has resulted in a comprehensive ‘hit list’ for targeted improvements
- Money is tight for cosmetic improvements
- A high % of required improvements are other 3rd party responsibilities eg Railtrack, landlords etc
- Letter writing and lobbying 3rd parties
- £million X High Street fund bid for ‘operation ice cream’ to create a grant funded pot for independents to improved fronts
PROMISE NO 2 PUTTING THE MARKET BACK INTO MARKET RASEN
Our Gastro market with live food demos by Dominic Franks
We wanted to re-instate a lively and vibrant market at the heart of the Market Rasen visitor and shopping experience
We’ve build our monthly BIG market using common sense and determination. We have excellent administration and trader engagement run via a cloud-based database. Our planning and delivery on the day is first class, thanks to Jackie’s stewardship and we kept our pitch fees low (at £10) throughout 2012 to remove barriers to entry. The result being the growth of our markets from c30 stalls to c70 stalls (at capacity) over two venues.
We recently won a NABMA award for being Britain’s best small speciality market – thanks to an excellent mix of artisan food, art & crafts.
We have run a variety of market day promotions, run competitions and encouraged attractions along the High Street to encourage footfall for our retailers on market days.
We have surveyed shoppers, measured traffic and know that takings are up on market dates.
Despite this being our obvious success to date we still face challenges:
- Complaints from a hard core of High Street traders about competition on market days and focus of activity in the Market Place
- Requests for a protectionist approach to limit the number of specific types of trader on market day
- Work with our Town Council to encourage a much needed halo effect into our regular weekly market has been frustratingly slow
- A January price rise (to £20 per pitch) has put our market into profit for the first time
- Logistics – the erection and dismantle – is a massive and time consuming job
- Keeping the themes fresh
- Engaging volunteers
- Driving footfall from a bigger catchment
- 10 x 2013 dates
- Sourcing a trailer and paid-for logistics team
- Continue to theme & promote every event
PROMISE NO 3 SUSTAINABLE SHOPPING STRATEGY
Our 1st Portas Pilot shop, Greens of Lincolnshire
We wanted to create a retail incubator unit to give market traders and entrepreneurs a route onto the High St. We promised to provide businesses with training and development to support the journey.
- Delivering this promise has been the most demanding part of our project to date. Food and non-food retail have different challenges, but both are core to our offer. We have opened two shops on our High St.
- The first is ‘Greens’ – a micro farm shop and much needed anchor shop to improve our shopper offer. The second is ‘The BIG Corner Shop’ – a more traditional pop-up for our artists and makers. This is being operated on a 3m pilot basis and provides MR BIG with a much needed ‘hub’ in the community.
- At present, these stores employ 4 part-time workers. It is early days, but if these outlets can turn a profit, they offer a much needed opportunity to generate cash and build sustainability into our plans.
- The operational demands of running two small retail businesses are huge and difficult to support amongst a team of volunteer directors, all of whom have their own businesses or careers. Both shops have been warmly received. Greens shows real promise for becoming a successful cash engine for our scheme. Just two weeks into trading in the Big Corner Shop, it is too early to judge how this will work – but the shop is already serving to unite a vibrant community of local artists and makers.
- We have recently completed a 3 session series of business basics training for members, with more in the pipeline.
Mary Portas in our 2nd retail space, The Big Corner Shop
- Time for leadership, management and problem solving
- Organising and managing a high quality volunteer workforce
- Developing the Greens veg-box scheme
- Pop-up opportunity at the race course
- Assess success of BCS 3m trial
- More training, development and networking for members and traders
PROMISE NO 4 MARKETING TO PUT OUR TOWN ON THE MAP
We wanted to provide marketing support that would encourage High Street footfall from local, regional and national visitors.
- Effective Social media and an on-going campaign of traditional media relations have formed the cornerstone of our marketing strategy and been key to our success.
- Our database also allows us to communicate quickly and effectively with our members and supporters.
- We have a rolling programme of marketing to support our markets AND we’ve used a successful campaign of Market Rasen merchandise to promote pride in our town
- We were lucky enough to begin our journey with three career marketing professionals on our board. This will shortly be depleted to one. This will undoubtedly impact the volume of our communications – but we have all the vital platforms in place, so we are actively training our volunteers and staff to continue the good work.
- With tangible improvements now visible along our High Street, it is our intention to develop and launch a Market Rasen ‘brand’, in time for the 2013 visitor season. To this end, we are engaged with the University of Lincoln and have 5 teams of students working on various campaigns to take our message to the broader market.
- Additionally we won £10K from Heritage Lottery to create a virtual town guide/application.
- Effective PR has been essential in spreading the word about our achievements. We are mindful of the opportunities on the horizon as we approach the Portas anniversary in May, but also concerned that we will have to be even more inventive to secure coverage thereafter!
- However much we do to communicate – it simply isn’t enough
- Vocal critics and problems with our Social Media ownership/access have hobbled our team in recent months
- More markets promotions (with paid-for media)
- Branding, shop local, town information provision and virtual tour are all in the pipeline
Summary – The good, the bad and the ugly
We’ve had an amazing journey so far and it’s incredibly rewarding to see a visible difference on our High Street, new shops opening, a vibrant marketing and a new air of confidence in our town.
We get fabulous feedback from the public, from our market traders and from our High Street supporters.
But being a successful Town Team comes at a cost.
We have the ideas and determination that could lead to long-term sustainability for our activities, but we also have some very serious challenges to overcome:
- A handful of volunteers are trying to reverse a trend of neglect and mismanagement that was left unchecked for a number of years. It is exhausting and many of our volunteers have seen this take its toll on their personal and professional lives. This is not sustainable – and getting additional and new volunteers with the requisite skills is a big challenge
- We face criticism and negativity from a handful of opponents. Unfortunately they are extremely vocal, loud and in some cases, personal. This erodes enthusiasm and goodwill
- The more we initiate, the higher our profile, the higher the expectation and workload. We have paid for resources, but demand is quickly outstripping supply. We continue to remain focused, but worry that this won’t be enough to sustain the momentum we have created
- Collaboration and cross-party working is challenging. Understanding respective roles and responsibilities can be difficult. Bureaucracy and red-tape is frustrating. Our style is somewhat maverick and our approach is commercial, consequently our ‘fit’ with some of our community’s more established committees and bodies can be uncomfortable.
- There is no ‘blueprint’ for success. We are embracing the spirit of the pilot to try new ideas. The Portas funds have been essential in giving us the opportunity to do so, without pressure for successful ‘outcomes’. On the whole, the things we are trying are working. But we are mindful that we are one of a very lucky few that have the luxury of a funding pot to help bring ideas to life.
Follow our journey as it happens, in social media: