A local store owner has shown Mary Portas the way to galvanise a town’s retailers in the same week that the Queen of Shops is about to host a controversial new TV series about her attempts to breathe life into England’s high streets.
Chris Edwards, owner of Edwards Newsagents in Norfolk, has been using his position as the chair of the Watton town team to drive footfall and profits for independent businesses in the Wayland area. This includes setting up a high street market for entrepreneurs to display their goods, and encouraging shops to use their window displays to support local events such as wedding and motorcycle shows.
Mr Edwards said the group did not apply for funding from the Portas pilot scheme or the £10m high street innovation pot, but instead gained financial backing from the local chamber of commerce and town council.
Mr Edwards said: “We have taken inspiration from Mary Portas but there are things that she mentioned that we can’t influence, such as business rates and landlord’s rents. But what we have been able to influence is the atmosphere in the high street, and it is paying off massively. Our high street is fighting back.”
Watton town councillor Michael Wassel encouraged other retailers to follow the team’s example and get in touch with their local chamber of commerce. “What the town team has achieved so far has been magnificent, and it has driven more footfall to the high street and more people into local shops. It has exceeded all expectations,” he said.
The news comes as the first episode of Mary: Queen of the High Street hits screens next Tuesday, despite criticisms at the retail guru over the effectiveness of her Portas pilot scheme.
Councils awarded £100,000 from the government-backed initative have been accused of spending only small amounts of the cash to regenerate high streets or using it to buy frivolous items, including a £1,600 Peppa Pig costume.