Shoppers have been flocking to Ashford in Kent with it’s thriving shopping centre that has seen people flock back to the high street.As the nation reels from store closures and plummeting profits, one town is a shining beacon of hope.
Ashford in Kent has create a thriving shopping centre that is pulling in the punters.Figures show footfall soared 27% in December compared with 2017 and year-on-year rocketed by 52% in the Christmas week.But how has Ashford, with a population of just 127,500, beaten the odds to become the poster town for the high street fightback?Cllr Graham Galpin said: “It’s taken six years of hard work to become an overnight success.
“There is a long way to go, but local authorities are looking to replicate it in their towns.”So how did they do it?By 2014 Park Mall had become a rundown precinct that shoppers avoided. Out of 34 shops, a third were empty.But a year later Ashford council bought it for £823,000 from its French owner and revamped it and encouraging independent businesses.Traders were offered business support and help with refitting the shops and all the units are occupied.
Family run tea room The Little Teapot opened for business in 2016.Owned by husband and wife Jacqui and Russell Geen, the business hit an obstacle when the ventilation system let them down.Russell said: “The council invested £30,000 on a new air conditioning system and also spent a lot time fixing leaks in the roof.”
And on a bigger scale, Ashford Council also gave the go-ahead for a £75million leisure complex at Elwick Place which officially opens next week and Ashford Picturehouse opened its doors in December.New independent traders taking on shops in Park Mall were offered free rent for up to a year and opened their books to council finance experts so they paid fair rates depending on how the business was shaping up.
Claire Heal owns Emporia Fabric & Craft, a haberdashery business selling material for dress making and patchwork alongside yarn and a selection of Brother sewing machines.She also holds regular sewing, knitting and crochet classes for beginners and veterans.Claire said: “We were the first tenant to move into Park Mall three and a half years ago after the council bought the centre.
“We used to be based in Bank Street in the town centre and were attracted here because it was a bigger premises in a better position.”A huge incentive for me to move here was a six month rent free period offered by the council, that really helped my business establish itself here.”
A series of events from dance acts and bands to farmers markets and an art trail are proving hits.The art trail based on the animation The Snowman and Snow Dog featured sculptures displayed across the town and an auction raised £142,000 for a hospice.Cllr Galpin said: “Coming into the town centre has to be more than just shopping – it has to be about experiences.“Town centres will need to be reinvented for life in the 21st Century. An important part is that fun element.”
While regenerated Park Mall is mostly home to independent stores, County Square is dominated by household names including Next, Debenhams, Oasis, New Look, Dorothy Perkins, River Island, The Entertainer, Pandora and Superdrug.The flourishing main mall complements the smaller one with the council ensuring there’s no conflict between the two.And a designer outlet on the edge of town also drives in footfall.
While high street veteran Marks & Spencer announced on Tuesday it was planning to close down it’s County Square store, Cllr Galpin remained upbeat and said: “It’s regrettable that we are losing M&S but we are actively looking at finding a way forward. The high street is ever-changing but there are always opportunities.”
A collection of 30 creative businesses called Made in Ashford acts as a shop window for artisan traders to test their products on the high street with short, flexible tenancies.Manager Melissa Dawkins said: “We have a very close and effective relationship with Ashford Borough Council, which has proved fundamental to our success in growing a fantastic business.”They always listen to what we have to say and are receptive to new ideas.“We saw our best Christmas, with trading up 30% on December last year. We finished our year up 17% on our previous year.”The shop has grown from strength to strength, peaking at 50 businesses trading from our store.”
The Pride Factor
Keeping the centre clean and safe has encouraged more shoppers to flock to the high street.
Cllr Galpin said: “We have taken a great deal of care in curating it and we have restored pride in the town centre.“Families want to come and enjoy themselves, have a great day out and shop but also to have pride in their town.”
The Car Parks
To encourage more families to use shopping centres at off-peak times, various car parks have free parking from Monday to Saturday after 3pm, on Sundays and Bank Holidays, or after 3pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays.
Thanks The Mirror for the post:- https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/how-ashford-kent-became-poster-13862273