Wisbech Town Team and the Portas Initiative

17:50 Thursday 1st March 2012
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: Business people and town councillors in Wisbech, despairing at what they see as its decline, have launched a regeneration intitiative called Wisbech Town Team. It’s bidding for Government money to give the market square and town centre a boost. The Chairman of Fenland Chamber of Commerce, Jaqui Fairfax joined me earlier and got it going. (TAPE)
JAQUI FAIRFAX: The Wisbech Town Team are a group of residents, traders and landlords, members of the public, who have just come together to try and improve Wisbech Town Centre, and Wisbech in general.
CHRIS MANN: What’s wrong with it at the moment?
JAQUI FAIRFAX: Well, like all towns at the moment, the recession’s hit the town, and it’s looking a bit tired and run down. And I’m sure there are ways that we can improve it.
CHRIS MANN: How has it worked so far? What have you been doing?
JAQUI FAIRFAX: Well, we started off looking at the Mary Portas Initiative, because Mary Portas has asked everyone to get Town Teams together, in an effort to bid for the twelve possible towns that are going to be available to get the funding. We had our first meeting just over a week ago now. We all got together, and about 70 people turned up to the meeting, which was a fantastic response. Lots and lots of ideas generated that day. We all went away to think about it, and five days later got back together again. And we’ve now split down into smaller groups, who are concentrating on certain areas within the town.
CHRIS MANN: Apparently there’s money available, if you make an application and you’re successful. How much money, and what would you do with it do you think?
JAQUI FAIRFAX: Well there’s about £100,000 maximum that would be available. But we’re not just looking at the Mary Portas. We’re looking at the other pots of funding that’s around as well.
CHRIS MANN: And what would you do with it?
JAQUI FAIRFAX: It’s going to depend on the projects that we decide. We haven’t come to any firm understanding yet on what we actually want to do, but we’re concentrating on three main areas, one of them being looking at empty buildings in the town. Other ways that we can use them for things like looking at a food hall where we can have different stalls selling different types of food for the cooking up, things like Chinese food, Asian food, Eastern European food. Different types of culture as well as English food. And looking at also having craft stalls in the place, so that people who are thinking, maybe I’d like a shop, but I don’t want to commit to a whole shop at the moment, can try it out.
CHRIS MANN: Well as you mentioned there, the makeup of Wisbech has changed, hasn’t it, over the recent years. I think it’s one third of the population now is from Eastern Europe, or thereabouts. You mention the Chinese and other influences that are there. Are people representing those parts of the community involved in this initiative?
JAQUI FAIRFAX: I’ve got a meeting with the Rosmini Centre hopefully next week. Veryt much want them to be involved in it, because it’s their home as much as everybody else’s.
CHRIS MANN: But they’ve been slow to respond so far. Is that fair to say.
JAQUI FAIRFAX: I think they have because the message hasn’t probably got out there to them. But now they’ve heard about it they’re very keen to be involved.
CHRIS MANN: You want them to know they’re welcome.
JAQUI FAIRFAX: Oh very much so. Everybody’s welcome. The more ideas the better.
CHRIS MANN: Well, let people know now how they can get in touch with you, and when your next meeting is please Jaqui.
JAQUI FAIRFAX: Well our next meeting is next Wednesday 7th March at 7 o’clock. We’re going to be at the Wisbech Town Council Chamber, which is on North Brink, a very beautiful Georgian street, in Wisbech.
CHRIS MANN: Cast your mind forward ten years. What would you like Wisbech to be like Jaqui?
JAQUI FAIRFAX: I’d like it to be a thriving town, where there’s lots of things going on all the time. A place that actually people want to go in. I can see the Market Square with people having music playing in the middle, a cafe type environment with tables on the pavement. A place where people want to go in the evening and enjoy themselves. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: Jaqui Fairfax from Fenland Chamber of Commerce.