Cast our minds back and Nelson town centre was one of 371 individual bids put forward to receive a £100,000 grant as part of the ‘Portas Pilot Towns’ initiative. The first twelve towns were chosen by Local Government Minister, Grant Shapps with Nelson being one of them which was selected to trial proposals put forward in the Portas independent review of the high street the previous year.
Over 30 years ago Nelson was a highly-active shopping centre, but things have taken a turn for the worse over the decades and Mary Portas, the self-proclaimed ‘Queen of Shops’ paid a visit to see how the money was being spent and to see whether it has helped to bring the centre back to more active life.
This was the first time she had been to the town and her visit was certainly met with enthusiasm locally. She toured the streets, went through the Victory Centres arcade, saw the Shuttle and new ampi-theatre and stopped to see the changes being made to the old library. Her time spent at the ACE Centre was also an opportunity for the community to share their experiences and news on what has been happening.
However, by her own admission, the future of the high streets will be very difficult. She commended the towns people for their enthusiasm and commitment and the town itself for its wonderful architecture and Victorian complexes before going on to say: “We need to build on what people do locally and find out what people want in their town centre. We need a mix of leisure, social, inter-action shopping, health and learning. There has to be something for everyone – the younger and the older residents. If you bring young people into the town centre they will bring life with them.”
Whilst we believe this trial certainly paves the way for change and brings positivity and confidence to the town; and others which are already part of the Portas Pilot Trials there are still significant changes to be made. Many of those changes are restricted by external forces such as the delay in revaluation of business rates, the surge in demand for online purchasing and so forth. By going back to grass roots and forming a ‘community’ once more, investing in our small businesses and infrastructure whilst creating an ambient environment for shoppers can only help revitalise the area. We applaud Mary Portas for choosing Nelson as we believe we have the ingredients to put the town back on the map.