Braintree: Town team leader defends Portas Town project

After a successful stint at Braintree's pop-up shop - funded by Portas money - Barry and Zoe Harvey

After a successful stint at Braintree's pop-up shop - funded by Portas money - Barry and Zoe Harvey, who run Party Inspirations, are now due to move into a permanent shop unit near the town centre. - Credit: Archant

A business expert spearheading attempts to rejuvenate the high street in one Essex community has defended the Portas Town initiative after it came under attack earlier this month.

Retail guru Mary Portas has faced criticism for her review of UK high streets in 2011 - a report that was adopted by the government, which set up the High Street Innovation Fund in response.

Most of the criticism has come from reported comments from former Iceland boss Bill Grimsey, who has accused her of being “nostalgic” and using the report to promote her TV series.

But, according to Liz Storey, chairman of Braintree’s Town Team, a group set up to promote the town after it was awarded £86,500 from the fund last July, the money has “kick-started” a number of exciting projects in the town and “brought retailers together”.

Ms Storey said: “It doesn’t matter what you call the money, whether it’s Portas money, an initiative or a grant - what it has done is get people thinking about how we develop the town and has helped kick-start a number of projects.

“We’ve only spent around £15,000 of the money so far because we want to create something sustainable in the town. But what we have is a lot of people putting their time and effort into making things happen and you can’t put a value on that.”

Evidence of this is a regular monthly get-together of around 30 of the town’s retailers who meet for a coffee and a chat about how to improve the town’s offering.

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A “jewellery village” is also due to be set up in Braintree’s old community centre to give people the opportunity to sell their craft work while new menswear outlet Faded is expected to open on the high street at the end of the month.

There is also good news from the town’s pop-up shop - another initiative paid for through Portas cash - which offers start-up businesses the chance to trade in the town centre without the burden of high overheads.

Current incumbents, husband and wife team Barrie and Zoe Harvey who run party accessories business Party Inspirations, have decided to move into a permanent shop unit in the town after seeing turnover increase by more than 150% and their client base double.

“The pop-up shop gave us the chance to introduce ourselves to the people of Braintree and to learn about running a shop,” said Mrs Harvey.

“Without the Portas funding, Party Inspirations would never have had the chance to progress like this.”