RETAIL and civic leaders in Southwold are bidding for a slice of £1m to breathe new life into the town’s high street and protect its “vibrant hub” of independent businesses.

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A partnership of local organisations, businesses, landlords and authorities hope Southwold can become one of just 12 places across the country to be selected for the Portas Pilot Town Scheme.

If successful, the town could scoop up to £100,000 to test the ideas of retail guru Mary Portas who has joined forces with the government to spearhead a campaign to revitalise town centres amid increased competition from internet shopping and out-of-town developments.

The bid, led by Southwold and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce, will seek ideas from local people and create a “town team” to develop a fresh approach to the way the high street is managed.

Meanwhile, small businesses will be given consultancy workshops by entrepreneur and London College of Fashion lecturer Catherine Fuller who runs the Southwold-based lingerie brand Outrageous Fortune.

But the town faces strong competition from across England, with Lowestoft and Halesworth among the other Suffolk towns seeking funding, along with a joint bid from Framlingham, Leiston, Saxmundham and Aldeburgh.

Guy Mitchell, chairman of Southwold and District Chamber of Trade, told The Journal: “This is a fantastic opportunity for everyone in the town to come together to ensure Southwold’s high street remains a vibrant hub serving local people and visitors. Southwold as a town is full of character and we are very lucky, but without action we risk becoming like any other town centre with the same national chain stores.

“We want to promote independence and keep it different. As chairman of the chamber of trade, we are on the verge of launching our loyalty cards, which encourage people to buy at the independent shops in Southwold, and we want to promote our market days and make it easier for local artists and craftsman to sell their wares.

“People may look at Southwold as a prosperous town that doesn’t need support, but we are looking at this bid as preventative medicine because without taking action, and by becoming complacent, we will become like any other high street.”

The pilot towns scheme was launched after the government recruited Ms Portas to investigate the state of England’s traditional high streets and her review was published in December.

It made a number of recommendations for local authorities and businesses to administer a shot in the arm to shopping areas facing a declining footfall.

Mr Mitchell said: “If we win, Mary Portas will be working with us to ensure Southwold makes the most of this £100,000 golden ticket.”

The partnership, led by the chamber of trade, which will be bidding to make Southwold a pilot town includes the Southwold and Reydon Society, Suffolk County Council, Southwold Town Council, Waveney District Council, Reydon Civic Society and entrepreneur Mrs Fuller.

The mayor of Southwold John Windell said he believed the Portas scheme would be hugely beneficial for Southwold. He said: “Southwold Town Council wholly support this initiative and in anyway we can help the traders of Southwold then we would like to.

“I do think that Southwold is the kind of town where the Portas initiative would work. We do have big traders coming into the town whereas Halesworth doesn’t have that. These big corporations have an affect on local people because they make the business rates higher for local people trying to set-up a shop or business.”

Mary Portas and the government have said they are looking for applications which demonstrate a transformational vision of their high street with support to put it into practise.

The government is searching for a mix of pilot areas from town centres and high streets including market towns, villages, large towns, new towns, coastal towns and suburban areas.

Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal, said she was pleased to see the collective effort behind the pilot towns bid. She added: “There are three bids currently from Suffolk Coastal constituency, including Southwold and Halesworth. It is good that local towns are working together to improve their high streets and even if not successful in the bid for government cash, the strategic work will be an inspiration for future growth.”

•If you want to back the Southwold bid, submit your ideas to southwoldchamberoftrade@gmail.com or fill out a form while shopping at business displaying the Back the Bid symbol.

The bid has to be submitted before the end of March, together with a supporting video.

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