It was the American poet Allen Ginsberg who said his generation of writers had moved the world a millionth of an inch.
As an independent trader in Rochdale who’s spent the last four years chivvying, cajoling and campaigning for our local council to do more to support small businesses, I’ve made similar progress – albeit in a tiny corner of Lancashire.
One successful independent retailer is great; A cluster of successful independents becomes a destination…
Fighting a battle on two fronts is exhausting. Ask any small independent and they’ll tell you the struggle to keep going on a daily basis in tough economic conditions and slowly grow and develop your business is all consuming. But add to that the task of campaigning for independents and making sure the high street is firmly on the Council’s agenda and it becomes a lot more difficult.
Once you achieve success in the first battle, though, and from modest roots your business begins to branch out, then the second battle becomes totally necessary. If independents are to really succeed it helps if there are more of them and a critical mass is formed. One successful independent is great, but on its own it won’t make somewhere a must-visit place. A cluster of successful independents, however, becomes a destination and raises the aspirations of a town.
Creating the right environment to foster success requires support from many parties, and on many levels
Creating the right environment for this to happen requires a local council to deliver a wide range of supportive policies on car parking, planning, enterprise and many other issues.
The Government – through its Local Government Finance Bill – is currently talking of the need to stimulate links between councils and small businesses.
This is to be welcomed and in the current climate it’s needed more than ever. Achieving it is another matter entirely. Because – as Kipling might have said, the culture of enterprise and the culture of councils are at two ends of the spectrum and never the twain shall meet.
Determination wins – £1,000,000 from the council to create a “High Street Foundation”!
But by working with other traders and interested parties, and doggedly sticking to our campaign, even when it looked like everything I said was falling on deaf ears, the gap is narrowing. The Council has made some concessions on free parking. I’ve made progress on establishing a ‘shop local’ campaign with the local newspaper and got the Council to commit to a short-term plan for the town centre. One million pounds of investment has been committed by the Council to this. We’ve established a High Street Foundation that brings local businesses together to support the future of our local high street. I’ve managed to get a significant reduction on my business rates and encouraged other local traders to appeal their evaluation. And we’ve got the Council to support the creation of a local emporium to support independent traders.
More to do – focusing on planning decisions, support for small businesses, a sensible regeneration strategy
All of this is to be welcomed and is definitely a step in the right direction. But our town still faces many challenges and there’s a lot more to do. We need to stop reckless and ill-considered planning decisions that threaten traders’ livelihoods. We need more incentives for independents to come to our town, better links with landlords, more activities to bring families and young people in to town and a sensible regeneration strategy that focuses less on big bang developments of the past and more on nurturing smaller scale projects that build a greater sense of community.
Paul Turner-Mitchell – Business Owner, Retailer, family man, campaigner and chair of Rochdale’s High Street Foundation!
Since I accepted the role of chair of Rochdale’s High Street Foundation my ‘to-do list’ has grown and grown. Battling recession, depressed consumer confidence and a view that sometimes refuses to learn from the mistakes of the past, makes it an uphill struggle. But as long as independents nationally continue to grow and take over prime retail space on high streets that multiples are vacating, the prize of more diverse, vibrant and community-orientated high streets is still there for the taking.
This blog was written by Paul Turner Mitchell, owner of 25 Ten Boutique in Rochdale and avid campaigner for Independent Retailers. You can connect with Paul on twitter – @Paul25Ten or be inspired by how effectively his team run their facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/25TenBoutique – with over 6000 likes!