I live near a Portas Pilot. It's where I would go to tax my car or find vintage china in charity shops. It isn't where I have ever been to have a coffee with friends, look for Christmas presents or treat myself to a meal out. Yet.
I read with interest Nick Gray's guest column on The Drum about less talk and more action being needed. I have to agree that some of the Portas Towns seem to have become talking shops. It seems like the Government engaged in spin (who would have thought) and reveled in column inches gained as Mary mounted her crusade. sadly it seems they popped to a high street that was still open and bought a broom to sweep everything under the carpet. Most of the legislative or policy recommendations have been ignored and since it was published they have hiked business rates and pushed back the rate review until 2017.
Having worked in Corporate Comms for an international retailer and met with dozens of MPs, Councillors, Officers and community groups I know it isn't a simple or a single issue. But it isn't just down to big retail to save or kill our high street.
Local councils have to make it simpler and cut red tape; cut rates, support BIDs and community groups, support planning applications and have a creative vision. The police need to make people feel safe. The transport & parking offer has to be right. Landlords should be offering flexible leases. Shopkeepers need to be on and offline, especially if they have a bespoke or partially seasonal offer and they need to engage their customers. A great example of this is Love Abergavenny, a simple way of shops working under a brand and pooling their resources.
We have to acknowledge that the world is evolving, we don't live and work in the same village or borough. We live 24.7 lives, shop online, drive cars...
Small retail can learn from big retail and big business. All too often we are quick to blame and not be open to learn. Club card data is one thing but surveying customers, trialing products, special offers, Facebook pages, competitions, an attractive shop window, opening hours that work for customers life styles... all an essential part of a big retail offer that should be part of any independent shop owners marketing plans. Probably something Mary Portas and I would agree on.
Whatever happens to my local Portas Town - Bedminster - I am hopeful that it's one of the brighter ones, it is supported by the city mayor and a volunteer committee who seem keen to try things. I hope that in 12 months time I am tweeting about visiting Bedminster for more than my tax disk and a charity shop mooch.