Let’s get behind Lowestoft – we’ve got Mary in our team

RETAILERS in Lowestoft are being urged to grasp a 'ground-breaking' opportunity to promote the town centre.

Three months ago there were celebrations when Lowestoft beat off competition from more than 400 applicants across the country to become one of 27 Portas pilot towns – and secure �100,000 from the government.

Since the announcement in late July, the Lowestoft Town Centre Management Partnership (LTMP), Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and Waveney District Council have been working together with local retailers to discuss how the money should be used to make the town more attractive and welcoming to shoppers.

But Lowestoft town centre manager Emma King said their challenge now was to 'make real and positive changes' – with the 'inspirational' support of retail guru Mary Portas driving them forward.

Just under a month ago, Mrs King and some of the Lowestoft town team – including, Waveney District Council's chief executive Stephen Baker, Waveney MP Peter Aldous, and Rysia McCallum, of Cash Generators – were invited to attend their first Portas Pilot Town Teams event at Croydon.

All 27 pilot towns were represented and, after a speech by housing and local government minister Mark Prisk and presentations from three of the first round Portas Towns, Ms Portas gave a presentation.

'This was heartfelt and full of pride for her Portas Towns,' Mrs King said. 'She was inspirational and, although she is the driving force behind the scheme, she is very much 'one of us' and there for the good of all town centres.

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'Her passion and enthusiasm was so encouraging and she talked of the problems she'd seen and that as 'pilots' we were there to try things – 'if it doesn't work don't worry, but if it does then shout about it and we can all listen'.'

Mrs King added: 'It was a fantastic event that showed that teamwork really does pay off. The 27 towns have been put together as a team and we are the voices for the future of all town centres.

'This is ground-breaking and Lowestoft is part of it – we should all be very proud of our town.'

In recent weeks, LTMP has held two 'town team' meetings to discuss how best to use funding.

Mrs King said the emphasis was on projects that would have a long-term benefit for Lowestoft, and which might be taken on by Lowestoft Vision – the group behind plans for a new Business Improvement District in the town.

'Having secured the �100,000, it may sound like a lot of money but in essence it won't go far over the area we are covering, so we are taking our time to decide on the way we are going to use it to ensure that we get it right and that we build projects that can then be further developed under Lowestoft Vision,' she said.

After discussing ideas at the first town team meeting in August, the second meeting in September saw project managers appointed to oversee initiatives in four key categories. These are:

?A discount voucher scheme – Led by Emma King, the aim is to create a scheme which will suit all businesses. Mrs King said: 'We want the scheme to be centred on Lowestoft and we want the businesses to have the input to ensure that they get a voucher scheme that will work for them and will raise footfall into the town.'

?Mentoring scheme – Led by Wilkinson's, with the help of other major retailers, the aim is to work with local schools and colleges to provide a mentoring scheme for students who would like to work in a retail environment.

Marek Mrotek, Wilkinson's store manager, said: 'I hope this will be the starting point for Lowestoft to increase its footfall to the town and make people want to come to Lowestoft for all the right reasons.'

?Street rangers/wardens – Led by Dan Poitras, manager of the Britten Centre, the aim is to set up a team that will act as additional security within the town and offer information and advice to visitors. Mrs King said: 'They would become information points for people visiting the town, a friendly welcoming face for regular shoppers and the eyes and ears of the businesses to ensure that the town runs as smoothly as it can.'

?Events and marketing – Led by Martin Halliday, chief executive of the Marina Theatre, the aim is to find ways to promote the town centre. Mrs King said: 'We're expecting some fun events and marketing ideas.

'The suggestions so far include a themed historical trail from Kirkley through London Road North to the High Street; ghost walks or history walks; High Street and Kirkley information boards; town centre maps and a market in the High Street.'