'Portas power' sees market town improve retail offering
A Westcountry market town which has galvanised behind an application to become a Portas Pilot has announced plans to up its retail game – regardless of whether it is successful in its funding bid.
South Molton assembled an eight-strong Town Team earlier this year to co-ordinate its bid for the £1 million that is being made available by the Government following a report by retail guru Mary Portas.
The North Devon town is now waiting to hear if it will be one of 12 centres who will receive a share of the funding, but in the meantime the team has decided to implement some of the low-cost measures put forward in its funding bid, regardless of whether it is successful.
The Town Team – made up of members of the town council and the South Molton Business Association (SMBA) – met with around 75 businesses and residents yesterday to gauge their support for proposals that include initiatives to encourage retailers to open on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.
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SMBA chairman David Walker said: "We were absolutely delighted with the turnout. We understand that people have businesses to run and appreciate the efforts they made to be here.
"Overall, the feedback we have received has been very, very positive. This is wonderful as the Town Team cannot deliver these developments without ongoing local support.
"With a number of the retailers putting their names forward to be part of our new loyalty scheme, we plan to launch this in early June."
Retailers have now started signing up for the scheme to encourage them to open on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. This will see shoppers visiting on those days entered into a monthly raffle to win £100 of shopping vouchers, which they then reinvest in the town.
Because it is self-funding and is low on administration the Town Team plan to launch it on June 6 to see if matches the success of a similar scheme in Ilminster.
Other ideas, which will need funding, include a subsidised bus service to bring in shoppers who live in surrounding rural areas and improved signage to promote the town to passing motorists.
"We want to look after and raise the profile of South Molton. The town serves 23 outlying parishes and we need to give them access to the town. We want to bring in the indigenous population and we also want better signage on the A361 so that people can see that South Molton is here," said Mr Walker.
If the funding bid is successful, the town has set itself the target of increasing footfall by 20 per cent.
"If it [the Portas Pilot bid] has been a catalyst for the town to get people talking, it has already achieved a lot of its goals," he added.