Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Improving our high street

Bearwood -  bustling with people, services and jobs.
Bearwood  - a multifunctional social and retail space where people want to hang out, spend their money and just enjoy the local environment.
Bearwood -  a place that meets the diverse interests and needs of its people.

Do you think our Bearwood could be like this? Or perhaps in some ways it already is, but needs a bit of nurturing?

Well there's some funding available from government to be one of 12 Portas Pilots (remember the Mary Portas High Street Review last year?). It'll be competitive, the deadline is 30 March, and it's not masses of money but surely there's plenty of positive stuff we could do with £100k or so?!

I went to a meeting on Monday about the funding opportunity and thought I'd share my reflections with you....

Richard Marshall, who Chairs the Traders Association and Lightwoods Park Friends Group, arranged the meeting on Monday and invited a range of people. Council reps, residents, Cllr Bob Piper, transport and planning experts and local business representatives turned up. We considered the potential already in Bearwood that could be harnessed and encouraged...

Here are a few of the things we thought could be considered as High Street priorities:
  • Creative, independent retail and social spaces (such as pop-up shops or cafes open beyond 5pm); creating opportunities for the many artists, craft-makers, musicians and film-makers that live here
  • Beyond the high street: somehow actively linking the high street experience to our green spaces
  • Working with government and the council to change the attitude of absent high street landlords who currently don't care if their shop lies empty
  • Transport: balancing parking needs of out of town visitors and the needs of local pedestrians or cyclists

Within these broad areas we discussed quite a lot of detail – stuff that's happening already that could be built on as well as ideas for new initiatives. New stuff like a community shop for local info and selling locally-made wares; new business support for local people; testing out (for the benefit of the council, government and us) how we can convince absentee landlords to reduce rents on empty shops.

The most important thing I took from the meeting? That the real benefit of this won't be getting the funding or not (nice as it would be)! The process is likely to be a positive one that might help us move forward with a few improvements to our local area.

There's lots of potential. But it needs local people and local groups to be part of the discussions, to help find out what local residents' needs and interests really are, and to come up with a cohesive vision. All in 6 weeks! Want to be a part of it and volunteer your energy and positive ideas? Then get down to Azarri Too on Monday night, 6pm.

Don't wait for a meeting if you've got ideas. Get commenting here or on Facebook.

Sally Taylor

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