WHEN television’s “Queen of Shops” Mary Portas made her first visit to Nelson on Tuesday, she was impressed by the town – and Nelsoners were very pleased with her, too.
Around 30 years ago, Nelson was a highly-active shopping centre, but things have gone down over the decades.
Miss Portas had awarded Nelson Town Team a £100,000 Portas Pilot prize to help bring the centre back to more active life.
She met the team and council officials, and then went round the heart of town to see how things were.
At the ACE Centre, she got together with Pendle Council officers, councillors and the Town Team.
She was told about things happening as a result of her award, including a series of activities for students in the town centre, several Vintage Art and Crafts Markets and other ideas.
Nelson and Colne College has been very much involved and the plan is to encourage more of its students to spend time in the town centre.
Miss Portas was given a great welcome by chief executive of the council Mr Stephen Barnes and had a great debate with the team.
She also chatted with students from the college who have been looking at creating student facilities in the town centre.
Among them was Ameena Bibi (18), who has won a national honour – BBC Dragon’s Den star Peter Jones’s “Tycoon in Schools” initiative – and is going to Buckingham Palace next week to collect her prize.
Afterwards, Miss Portas said: “The future of our high streets will be very difficult.”
But she did believe things could be done to make centres more successful and, after her arrival in Nelson, said: “There’s just everyone here saying ‘We care’. This is a very lovely place.”
Despite the wind and rain, she had a walk round the town centre.
Miss Portas was accompanied by the team, including Pendle Council’s Executive Director (Regeneration) Brian Cookson, Executive member responsible for regeneration Coun. Paul White and Pendle business star Azhar Siddique, who appeared on BBC TV’s “The Apprentice”.
From the ACE, they went along Scotland Road and through the Victory Centre’s arcade to Leeds Road.
She then saw The Shuttle and the new small amphitheatre in the centre. Miss Portas and her hosts went along Manchester Road and took her to the old Nelson Library, which is currently being given a new lease of life.
Then they went back to the ACE Centre.
Miss Portas said: “This is the first time I’ve been to Nelson - it’s beautiful! It’s gorgeous even on a grey, rainy Tuesday.” She loved the Victorian complexes still in the town.
She suggested we can re-do the town centre and said: “What are the needs of the community? People need a local economy.”
She felt it was good to bring teenagers into town.
And she gave the impression local people needed to come up with ideas for projects which would help improve the high street.
“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.”
And she said: “If you bring young people into the town centre they will bring life with them.”
She made it clear the town centre improvement was a key social initiative.
Coun. Paul White revealed he and Miss Portas had got together and come up with an idea for Nelson – a Curry Mile.
The thought was to bring people into Nelson by having things like a night club, curry house and an art gallery.
He added: “She had some super ideas. I really like the idea of the Curry Mile. It would bring young people and people from outside the area into town.
“She was very clear we need to avoid harking back to yesteryear!”
They both felt it was sad a lot of people were going off to Bradford or Manchester for curries and felt a Curry Mile in town would bring different communities together in Nelson.