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Minister praises Ashford's innovative town centre

Media release
08 May 2018


Minister praises Ashford's innovative town centre

High Street Minister Jake Berry MP has praised Ashford's innovative approach to boosting the town centre and said other towns could learn a lot from its commitment to achieving success through strong partnerships.

Mr Berry's responsibilities at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government include high streets and he was in Ashford on 26 April to find out how the town - led by Ashford Borough Council - has revitalised its town centre, increased footfall and is investing in new leisure and retail facilities.

After meeting retailers and shop owners during his 90-minute tour, he said: "I have learnt a lot today. It's great to have seen a town centre that is thriving and is enjoying an increase in the number of people visiting.

"It is a tribute to Ashford Borough Council and the traders involved. I have met some fantastic and passionate champions for the town centre and it's obvious to me that this success comes from a strong partnership approach."

Asked how other UK towns could learn from Ashford, he said: "What is unusual about the Ashford approach is the absolute dedication to creating a partnership between the local council and new and existing traders to drive the town centre forward. With the support of local MP Damian Green and others, they have found new and innovative ways of regenerating the town centre and I applaud this."

The tour took in Park Mall shopping centre - which the borough council bought in 2015 - the high street and County Square shopping centre, which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary and which attracted over six million visitors a year for the first time in 2017.

He also visited Elwick Place, a new 100,000 sq ft town centre cinema, hotel and restaurant complex due to open later this year.

Ashford MP Damian Green, who joined the tour, said: "It's great that we are in a position in Ashford to show off the town centre to a government minister. Most town centres in the UK are struggling and asking for help but here in Ashford we recognised that the key to success is forging a powerful partnership between business, the local council and others.

"The town centre is being reinvigorated and more and more people are being attracted."

During his tour the minister met Park Mall shop owner Melissa Dawkins of Aye Aye Clothing, who told him: "Our business is up 30% on this time last year and the number of repeat visits is very high - people keep coming back for more! We are constantly trying out new things, last year we cleared away the window displays and had crafts people sitting in the window producing their goods, with shoppers stopping to watch."

Cllr Graham Galpin, Ashford Borough Council's portfolio holder for the town centres and business, said: "We have faced many challenges in reinvigorating our town centre but we are reaping the benefits of our dynamic approach to making our high street a fantastic place to visit and shop.

"We have gone from being a Portas Pilot town with much untapped promise to having a town centre with a quality and varied retail offer. People care passionately about their high street and the statistics show that they vote with their feet when the offer is right.

"We have made Ashfordians love their town centre again," added Cllr Galpin.

For more information about Ashford town centre visit


Notes for editors:

Ashford town centre leads the way...

The Ashford Town Team was set up to harness the sense of community created by the successful Portas Pilot bid in 2012. Its aim was to establish a new focus for the town centre and involved a partnership created between local businesses, community groups and residents.

The Portas Pilot delivered the hugely successful Love Ashford website,, which has transformed the way that many people look at the town centre. LoveAshford is the UK's first digital high street.

It was praised by Mary Portas herself, who was impressed with the council embracing the power of technology rather than running scared of it. The site and its related social media feeds generate considerable interest in new shops, detail offers and show, through blogs, that Ashford town centre is the destination for the season's must-have trends!

The Christmas festive fun days have blossomed with the support of the council. Huge crowds have been attracted to the town centre each year, supporting retailers, having fun with children's characters, visiting Santa's Grotto and seeing improved lights.

Independent shops have thrived in this new landscape. Start-ups have been given the time and space to flourish. Around 58% of the town's retailers are independents and vacancy rates have fallen to an historic low.

Footfall has increased across the town centre. In April 2016 an article in the Guardian newspaper showed that Ashford was outperforming all areas of the country in terms of footfall. Statistics continue to show year-on-year increases.

One of the biggest success stories in Ashford town centre's turnaround has been Park Mall. When the council bought the ailing shopping centre in June 2015, one third of the 33 units were empty. Now just one unit, remains vacant. Footfall in Park Mall alone has increased by 7%.

Today Park Mall is home to a quality-led independent offer. Many shops have tested out their business in the centre's kiosk units, only to move to bigger premises. Established businesses in the town, such as Emporia Fabrics and the Kent Messenger Group have also made Park Mall their new home. The Little Teapot tea rooms have also proven a real draw.

Another shop that has really made its mark is Made In Ashford. When it opened in October 2015 it was a signal of intention that quality independent shops would form the backbone of the revitalised Park Mall. Made in Ashford also continued the success of PopUp Ashford, which opened in October 2013 - originally as a six-month project - and remained open until December 2014.

Now in its third year, Made In Ashford sees local independent start-up businesses come together as a collective to showcase their products in the shop on flexible tenancies. This affords them a real opportunity to test their business on the high street for a longer period and offer town centre shoppers a unique and warm craft-and-gift buying experience.

The shop embodies the council's vision to open a shop to support local businesses and help them grow sufficiently to eventually move into units within the town centre.

A successful monthly farmers' market was introduced about four years ago to bring a vibrant feel to the lower high street on the first Sunday of each month, with regular traders, fun, music and healthy crowds.

In July last year, Ashford Borough Council allocated £10,000 to trigger the start of a second phase of the council's successful business-mentoring programme. In addition to delivering specific support for independent businesses the mentoring has helped them with their online presence, given them the confidence to use social media, work on their business models and develop marketing and branding ideas.

This is important to build the greater resilience needed to support independent businesses. The investment will help Ashford town centre retain its independent business core and continue to offer something different to residents and visitors into the long term.

For more information contact:

Darren Laws
Public Relations
01634 671167


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