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Portas Pilot projects act as a turning point for Ashford Town Centre

The introduction of various Portas Pilot projects, including Ashford Farmers’ Market, PopUp Ashford and the LoveAshford website, have been a major turning point for Ashford town centre and a catalyst the town needed for change.

PopUp Ashford, which began in 2013, has given numerous businesses the opportunity to test their trade on the high street. Although the allocated budget for PopUp Ashford has been spent, the council is now investigating plans for the next stage of the initiative.

In 2012, Ashford Borough Council was named a Portas Pilot town and was awarded £100,000 of Portas Pilot funding by the Department of Communities and Local Government. This was match funded by the council using section 106 funding.

Activities such as T-CAT, the employment of the Town Team Manager, the 2013 Christmas Lights event and the existing Ashford Town Talk website were funded by Ashford Borough Council, without drawing on the Portas Pilot pot, as part of its ongoing work to support the town centre.

Ashford Town Team has benefitted from the appointment of full-time Town Team Manager, Jo Wynn-Carter, who has been able to dedicate time to building strong relationships between local businesses, landlords and public sector bodies. To best reflect the roles and responsibilities of the Town Team Manager, the title was changed to Regeneration Manager as of March 2015.

Jo said: “PopUp Ashford has been very successful in supporting new businesses and entrepreneurs, and opening up contacts with enterprise and creative networks and organisations.

“The original concept of PopUp Britain was to allow businesses to test the High Street for two weeks in a shared unit. The Ashford PopUp shop initiative has naturally evolved this approach through feedback from businesses to extend this to be four weeks, to help businesses build trust in their brand and more face-to-face contact with customers.

“We will be investigating plans for the next stage of this initiative to provide smaller units for individual businesses looking to start up, but over a longer initial period which would give these businesses a greater chance to test the market over a more sustained period, which could result in more tenants taking vacant units within the town centre.”

PopUp Ashford

The PopUp shop, which opened in October 2013, has given over 20 businesses the opportunity to test their products and services on the high street without big overheads or long-term commitments.

It has welcomed a wide range of businesses, which have sold everything from vintage clothing and stylish jewellery to bespoke crafts and personalised gifts. The shop has also seen students from Ashford College setting up shop and getting a feel for the business-world with their photography company, EyeView.

Love Ashford

Ashford is driving town centre footfall through our innovative website LoveAshford.com. The new website, which launched in October 2014, allows visitors to interact with local shops and businesses, read the latest news and updates from across the borough and discover local events and activities.

The creation of LoveAshford has been the first step towards creating Ashford’s very own digital high street.

Ashford Farmers’ Market

The Ashford Farmers’ Market is another part of the council’s drive to increase footfall in the town centre, create a fresh, exciting atmosphere in the Lower High Street and support local businesses.

The Farmers’ Market takes place on the first Sunday of the month and boasts a diverse range of delicious food and drink from local traders. The first market was held in June 2014 and has since expanded in size and popularity.

It has also been listed as one of the top ten markets to visit in Kent by the Taste of Kent Awards.

Town Centre Action Team

As a direct result of Ashford being a Portas Pilot, Ashford Borough Council unveiled a Town Centre Action Team (T-CAT) to the public in September 2013, ushering in a new era of a brighter and cleaner town centre. Over the past two years, the team has been tasked with keeping the town looking at its best, and can respond rapidly to any problems reported by residents, visitors or local businesses.

Portas picture

You can download the full document of case studies here

The case studies are aso available on the Association of Town and City Management (ATCM) website at https://www.atcm.org/programmes/town_teams/case_studies 

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