MP Jonathan Reynolds has invited queen of the high street Mary Portas to see first-hand the ongoing work to improve Stalybridge town centre.
The ‘Portas Report’ highlighted the challenges facing town centres across the country and came up with a series of measures needed to keep them at the heart of their communities.
Following the publication of the report, MP Jonathan Reynolds brought together traders, residents and community leaders to form the Stalybridge Town Team.
Over the past 12 months, they have worked together to strengthen the town’s appeal, by improving the look of the town, supporting businesses and organising a series of events, including the regular Farmers’ Markets and the ‘We Love Stalybridge’ clean-up days.
Now Town Team chairman Andrew Stevenson and Stalybridge and Hyde MP Jonathan Reynolds have written to Ms Portas, inviting her to come and see the progress they have made so far.
“Traders, residents and community leaders have worked hard over the past year to broaden the appeal of Stalybridge’s town centre,” said Stalybridge and Hyde MP Mr Reynolds.
“While there is still a great deal of work to be done if Stalybridge is to fulfil its true potential, the town team has already made significant progress – and I hope Mary Portas will accept our invitation to see the changes the Town Team has made.
“Already members of the Team have played a major role in actions taken to bulldoze two derelict buildings that dominated areas of the town centre and encouraging traders to put hanging baskets outside their shops made a real difference too.
“They have organised a series of regular and one off events, like the Farmers Markets and the Classic Car Show – and they have asked residents to share their ideas for the future too.
“I have always maintained that Stalybridge with it attractive canal-side location should be an ideal place to spend leisure time – and the changes that are being made by the Town Team are already making it more appealing.
“Clearly, no high street has a future if it does not have the support of its community – but the past 12 months has shown that the traders, residents and shoppers value their town and want to play their part in making it better.”
As well as events like the Classic Car Show, the Horticultural Show and the Beer Festival and the regular Farmers Markets, which now attract visitors from far and wide, the Town Team has also organised a series of ‘We Love Stalybridge’ clean up days, where supporters roll up their sleeves to rid the town centre and canal area of rubbish.
Members of the team have worked with Tameside Council to make the town more accessible, by re-introducing traffic flow through Armentieres Square, increasing the number of free car parking spaces in the town centre and replacing some double yellow lines with single lines.
And they have successfully pressed for the demolition of two derelict sites, including the burned-out shell of a fitness centre in the heart of the town.
In addition they have worked to increase the profile of the town and held a Vision Day to encourage local people to contribute their own ideas.
Town Team chairman Andrew Stevenson, who has just published his first annual report, believes the future for Stalybridge is brighter as a result of the work undertaken by the Town Team.
Mr Stevenson said: “The Portas Report was an over-due wake-up call for all those people across the country who had been watching their towns decline and hoping that someone else would do something about it.
“The clear message from the Report was that there wasn’t ‘someone else’ who was going to come and turn around our towns – and if we wanted our own towns to thrive we had to do something about it.
“Since then the members of the Town Team have worked tirelessly alongside the community to improve Stalybridge.
“There is still work to do, but there have already been significant improvements – and we hope Mary Portas will accept our invitation to come and see our work in action."
The Portas Review was set up in response to the on-going decline of the high street, as they come under increasing pressure from out of town shopping centres, parking charges and the decline in the number of shoppers.
It highlighted a number of ideas designed to support the high street, including reduction in business rates, setting up Town Teams, removing red tape and establishing a National Market Day, as well as looking at the role of landlords and free parking schemes.
The Town Team is currently awaiting the outcome of a bid to the Future High X-Fund, a £1million fund that will be awarded to innovative schemes.