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The Portas Pilot


It wasn’t that long ago that we were passing comment on the Portas Review and asking the questions what was it that retailers were waiting for, why were they not getting on with the issues of addressing the problems they faced? Why were many seemingly waiting for the central government to provide the solutions to their local issues?


Having recently attended the Bristol Portas Pilot workshop which was presented by the Association of Town Centre Management alongside the CLG we were actually pleasantly surprised by what we found.


When we arrived what was immediately apparent was that there was a real buzz in the room, people had travelled from all over the region to hear where this initiative was going and how the retail and community centres they represented could get involved.


We have to say that we are extremely impressed with what we witnessed that morning in terms of what was delivered by the organisers but also the underlying strategy at work.  As the initial response to the Portas Report is not to create the conditions by which Grant Schapps will wave a magic wand and immediately level the playing field for the struggling retailers but to pull together cohesive teams focused on delivering local and community based strategies to meet the challenges they faced.


The carrot behind this focus is that those that are able to pull together form a functioning “Town Team” and submit a comprehensive strategy to the CLG by the 30th of March  2012 will be in the running to become one of the 12 Portas Pilots. These pilots working alongside their local authority will receive up to £100,000 worth of funding to enable them to implement their localised plans.


We have to salute Mary and the clever people at the CLG that have begun a flurry of activity around the UK and provided a real focal point for many to come together and begin the process of delivering solutions to the challenges that surround them.


Obviously, with  only 12 pilots on offer at this initial  stage and the deadline just around the corner meetings are happening all over the place as communities are strengthening and applications are being submitted.


We feel sorry for the poor souls that have got to work their way through these applications as we are confident there will be hundreds from around the UK. Making a decision as to which Town Teams will be successful is never going to be easy given the current climate but we have to admire what is actually at work here.


In creating this goal, in  dangling this significant carrot with attached to it the very clear objective of pooling resources and developing a real sense that something can be done, there has been the creation of a widespread foundation from which regardless of whether a Town Team is successful or not solutions will begin to form at the local level the infrastructure from which solutions can present themselves and be rolled delivered.


Every day we watch in amazement as across Twitter communities are coming together to support their local retail industry and social centres, to develop and drive initiatives and above all become noticeably resourceful as they work towards become one of the chosen Portas Pilots.


To us this is; and will be, extremely powerful going forward. Those that are successful they will have the added benefit of receiving the funding but for the many that are not they will have begun the necessary process of drawing the community together and collectively finding a way through the problems they face that works for in their town. A solution that has not just been handed to them by gvernment and as such is much more likely to succeed as those involved will have a strong sense of ownership over the process.


Very impressive stuff, and we look forward to seeing what comes from this crowdsourcing and community building exercise as it continues to unfold over the coming months.

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