Getting the right structures in place in Wrexham leads to success for high street champions

Over the past few years, Wrexham had experienced a decline in the number of people visiting the high street and a growing number of empty retail units. The Town Centre Manager and the Wrexham Town Centre Forum were keen to reverse this trend and identify how they could engage more effectively with their local community, both businesses and the general public.

Getting the right structures in place

Wrexham was one of four Welsh towns to join the Healthy High Streets programme in October 2014. Activities in the town are led by The Co-operative’s Deb Wozencraft, Membership Officer,  and Aileen Walters, Sponsorship Manager, who work alongside Santander’s Geoff Horrocks, Deborah Hitchin from  M&S and Jo Stringfellow from Boots. Together, the team works to increase footfall, reduce the number of empty shops and boost civic pride.

The Healthy High Streets champions started off by working closely with the Town Centre Manager and the Chair of the Wrexham Town Centre Forum to develop a plan of action to help address the issues affecting Wrexham’s high street.

The champions also attended the Wrexham Town Centre Forum (Forum), and worked alongside the Town Centre Manager, as well as the Forum Chair to increase participation and mobilise members into working groups.

Following on from these meetings, a flyer was created promoting the Forum and additional people and organisations the Forum wanted to engage with were identified. This approach proved to be very successful as attendance at the January and February sessions showed a 30% increase compared to the November 2014 session.

And in early 2015, the Healthy High Streets team helped to develop a framework to achieve the Healthy High Streets programme targets, including four working groups and an over-arching steering group. This meets monthly and is made up of the leader of each working group, a council representative, the Town Centre Manager, a Healthy High Streets champion and the Forum’s Chair. The groups focus on: events, marketing and communications; vacant properties; funding and governance; and how to improve people’s experience in Wrexham.

Activities in Wrexham

To understand civic pride, the champions created an online survey. This was sent out in December 2014 and the team received 300 responses, helping to steer plans and provide a valuable benchmark. The team plan to repeat the survey at regular intervals to measure progress.

The Healthy High Streets team also helped create and deliver a new bi-monthly newsletter, which is distributed online and in print via a new network of approximately 400 town centre businesses including cafes, local schools, businesses on the local industrial estate and forum members.

Furthermore, local politicians in Wrexham have agreed to share the newsletter amongst the community, and the team also developed a partnership with the local newspaper to print and distribute the newsletter for free via the newspaper’s digital channels.

To help boost attendance at Small Business Saturday and events during the Christmas period, the champions helped distribute 1,000 posters and encouraged their staff to advertise the events. Furthermore, the team also developed an events planner, which has been shared with members of the Forum and local media to join-up local activities.

By getting involved with Small Business Saturday, one of the local Healthy High Streets businesses secured a 25% increase in transactions and another an 8% increase in footfall.. Furthermore, 83% of people said they enjoyed the event in a follow up survey.

To further boost the community spirit, the Healthy High Streets champions created giant cards after Christmas to give local people an opportunity to send good luck messages to Wrexham FC who reached the third round of the FA Cup. The cards were circulated to more than 40 businesses, schools and shops, and over 1,000 people provided good luck messages. Extra support for the card came from the local newspaper who covered it in print and online, as well as from local politicians.

What next for Wrexham?

In 2015, the Healthy High Streets champions will be spending a lot of time supporting community initiatives. They plan to send representatives to the Careers Event at the local college, work with the local branch of the National Autistic Society to promote a month of fundraising and support the charity’s family fun day in April, as well as helping-out at a town clean up event in May followed by a series of community events in the town centre over the summer period.

The Town Centre Manager and Healthy High Streets team have even started to look at Christmas events for 2015, and planning is already well underway.

The Healthy High Streets team also attended a High Street UK 2020 workshop in January. It was delivered by Manchester Metropolitan University and findings from their research are feeding into the work being undertaken by the Healthy High Streets team in Wrexham.

Furthermore, the Healthy High Streets champions will continue to play an active role in the Wrexham Town Centre Forum, steering group and working groups to help address the town’s key priorities, widen the local Town Centre Network and develop opportunities for partner working going forward.

Nigel Lewis, Chair of the Wrexham Town Centre Forum, said: “The Healthy High Streets campaign has been a breath of fresh air to Wrexham Town Centre and the Forum. I have found the team approachable, enthusiastic, professional, full of ideas and very proactive.”

“I am very much of the opinion that town centres can only thrive when all stakeholders work together with the same objectives, and divide up tasks. I am confident with the ongoing support of the Healthy High Street programme we can deliver measureable and sustainable improvements in Wrexham Town Centre.”

Isobel Garner, Town Centre Manager for Wrexham, added: “The impetus that being part of the Healthy High Streets project has given to the work being carried out by partners in the Town Centre Forum has been amazing. It has made a real difference to everything that is taking place and brought a fresh and very positive attitude which is helping Wrexham to achieve its potential.”