‘Can Mary help town to thrive?’

File photo dated 14/06/10 of Mary Portas who is to lead a review aimed at developing 'more prosperous and diverse high streets' across the country, the Government announced today.
File photo dated 14/06/10 of Mary Portas who is to lead a review aimed at developing 'more prosperous and diverse high streets' across the country, the Government announced today.

SHOPPING chiefs are hoping to bag thousands of pounds in government funding and advice from straight talking retail guru Mary Portas to help breathe new life into Hemel Hempstead’s town centre.

If the town fights off competition from others up and down the country, it will join 11 others in a business-boosting pilot project, which will see them share a pot of funding totalling £1million and get a visit from the self-styled ‘Queen of Shops’ herself.

The people behind Hemel Hempstead’s Town Centre Partnership, launched in September last year, are in the process of putting together an application to the scheme.

The move is also being backed by Dacorum Borough Council.

It includes proposals for two initiatives designed to entice retailers and shoppers into the town.

The first is plans for the partnership to take over the running of the Marlowes market.

Vince Williams, one of the business brains behind the partnership and Marlowes Shopping Centre manager, said: “We don’t think it has had the attention it should have had and it has been a little bit detrimental in bringing new business to the town.”

But he added: “That is not to say it is all bad, they have got some very good operators.”

Proposals include changing the layout of the market, improving the way stalls are set up and giving local business people a chance to showcase what they have to offer, while also receiving mentoring from experienced retailers within the town.

If the partnership wins the market contract it will generate an annual revenue of £50,000 – cash that can be ploughed into other improvement plans.

The second initiative is to tackle empty units.

The plan is to offer pop-up stores to fledgling businesses. “It will give local people the chance of running a business at a relatively low cost,” said Vince.

Key retailers will pass on their knowledge to new business owners through toolbox sessions and shop visits.

But it is not just the funding on offer – up to £100,000 for each town – that will be a boost to Hemel Hempstead.

Vince said: “The PR would be astronomical because we will also get the support of the government and Mary Portas herself.

“It is not just about the money, the PR that will go with it will be absolutely fantastic for the town.

“We have got a town that needs a bit of help.”

Now the partnership wants to hear ideas from local businesses, shoppers, landlords and visitors that could help with the bid.

Vince said: “To succeed, we all need to work together and come up with some practical ideas to rejuvenate our high street.”

The group is opening up its next breakfast meeting to the public.

It is being held on Tuesday, March 13, from 8am to 9am at Hemel Hempstead’s Salvation Army base in Waterhouse Street.

For more information contact Kate Lang or Bryce Tudball at the council on 01442 228000, Vince on 01442 413818 or email info@hhtcp.co.uk