Padiham’s high street is bucking the national trend of decline, according to the town centre manager.
The number of empty shops in the town has fallen from 20% to 16% in the past 12 months alone.
Tony Fitzgerald says new businesses are flooding into Padiham against a backdrop in Britain of rising vacant units – even in cash-backed Portas Pilot towns.
Since the £11m. Tesco superstore opened last year, independent traders, small businesses and even national retail chain The Original Factory Shop are opening for business in Padiham.
A Town Team office is being set up in a former fireplace store in town which will include space for an art gallery and “pop up shop” space for fledgling businesses hoping to trade on the high street. A bid is being put together for £1m. in heritage Lottery funding to renovate some of the town’s historical buildings and shops.
Ambitious plans are also being made by the Town Team to create a programme of events to entice in shoppers including a fun fair and even a continental-style market.
Mr Fitzgerald, whose town centre manager role has been funded by cash from Tesco, believes Padiham could see single digit vacancy rates by the end of the year.
He said: “It’s a year since I became Padiham Town Centre Manager and the Town Team partnership has been working hard to help me to deliver a targeted Action Plan since forming last October.
“Then, the vacancy rate for empty units was just over 20% and had been flat lining at that figure for quite some time.
“At the Town Team set up meeting it was generally agreed that vacant units were Padiham’s greatest challenge. I’m pleased to tell you that the rate has now dropped to 16% and there are positive indicators that we’ll reach single figures by year end.”
The promising signs for Padiham comes as the national rate has gone up by 1% and the majority of the high profile Portas Pilot towns have seen their vacancy rates increase.
Mr Fitzgerald believes businesses are buying into the idea of Padiham as a thriving creative centre.
He said: “Many more businesses are considering Padiham, especially since the Town Team used its £10,000 Portas fund to provide small grants to attract artistic, creative and educational businesses which will help to establish a creative hub.
“The grants are tied to a mentoring programme and aim to provide six months ‘taster’ support so businesses can have a no-hassle opportunity to try out retailing in Padiham.
“There are a large number of creative businesses I’ve spoken to who love the idea of being involved in the creative hub but aren’t ready to commit to full time trading, preferring a single day or a few days trial as a ‘pop up shop,’ which is exactly what we’ll be running from the new Town Team base.
“We may be able to put on an arts and craft market as a special event in summer. If it’s well supported there may be a chance to establish a regular arts and crafts market.”
Hopes are to create a strong Padiham Town Centre brand with a “focusing event” at Molly Rigby’s on Thursday, June 13th, at 6pm with a pie and pea supper. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a place.