South Molton Town Centre - Credit: Eugene Birchall

COLUMN: Lessons learnt from Barnstaple should be applied to other town centres

North Devon Gazette

Early this year, The High Street Task Force announced that 68 Local Authorities would receive a package of expert advice and support, helping to deliver long term transformation to towns and cities in England.

Although it isn’t proposed to provide more money, North Devon Council has welcomed its inclusion as one of those Local Authorities.

The Task Force is an alliance of placemaking experts supporting communities and local government to transform their high streets and will give advice until June 2024.

The offer is one of support rather than direct funding to help to boost the capacity of local authorities, build sustainable place-making skills, provide an opportunity for information and data sharing and to co-ordinate a national approach.

The recommendation from the Task Force was that as a council we should choose an area where existing improvements are being made with particular emphasis on the Future High Street Fund applicants.

Although members of the Strategy & Resources committee considered areas like Ilfracombe, Braunton and South Molton it was felt that following the allocation of the Future High Street Fund to Barnstaple this could further enhance the successful outcomes from this multi-million-pound project.

Lessons learnt from Barnstaple should, where appropriate, then be applied to other town centres in North Devon.

The Task Force report suggested that the focus should be on one of the following:

  • Repositioning: knowing your town, using relevant data and information to develop a collaborative, inspiring vision that achieves positive change.
  • Reinventing: activate and animate the town, diversity its attractions. Multifunctional places offer different things (at different times) to increase the footfall and spend by those who visit.
  • Rebranding: establishing an identity and sense of place that can engender pride, commitment and attachment which is then communicated across the whole community.
  • Restructuring: putting in place the capacity, leadership and partnerships to deliver change including delivering large-scale spatial change to transform the town centre.

The support includes a visit from the High Street Task Force Experts to meet local stakeholders and place leaders, learn about current plans and help understand the challenges and opportunities.

Obviously at this stage we do not know what suggestions will be forthcoming but hopefully there will be ideas which can be implemented to enhance the experience of all who use our High Streets, support our businesses and boost our economy.

May I also take the opportunity of again inviting residents and holiday makers to visit the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon. The new Long Bridge Wing includes a high-quality temporary exhibitions gallery, community gallery and Learning Room which has greatly enhanced what the museum is able to offer.

Having been a Humanities teacher for most of my career, I find it fascinating to see some of the exhibits on display showing the history of our area and beyond.

At present there is a very interesting exhibition telling the little-known story of Barnstaple’s Partridge family who became influential members of the Arts and Crafts movement.

The displays focus on the lives and work of Ethel, Fred and Maud Partridge, who were born and educated locally in the late nineteenth century and went on to become part of the artistic community of Ditchling.

The exhibition brings together items from the Museum’s own Partridge Geology Collection with loans from national and regional museums including: examples of Ethel’s celebrated handmade textiles from the Crafts Study Centre and Ditchling Museum of Arts and Craft; jewellery created by Fred from the V&A, Fitzwilliam and Birmingham Museums; and a first edition copy of a book on Mediaeval Sinhalese art from the British Library.

The Partridge Family Exhibition will be on display until October 2022. Entry is free of charge and information about opening times can be found at barnstaplemuseum.org.uk

The exhibition is accompanied by a spring and summer events programme which includes an exclusive three-day workshop working with renowned weavers Jenny Wilkinson and Angie Parker, adults talks and children’s workshops.

David Worden, leader of North Devon Council
David Worden, leader of North Devon Council
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