Businesses pull together in bid to make Doncaster town centre the place to be
With concerns over issues ranging from street people to empty shops, businesses in Doncaster town centre were concerned.
But they refused to sit back and do nothing. Instead, they have pulled together to share good ideas and lobby the people who can do something about the problems.
After traders raised their original concerns over the street people, business people, the council and the police agreed to get together to set up a group which is now known as the Doncaster Town Centre Business Forum.
The organisation meets every quarter, and has already resulted in a number of projects, and sharing of potentially important information. It is run by the businesses, not the council.
Town centre pub entrepreneur Jackie Bailey was among those at the first meeting, and now chairs the meetings.
Jackie, who runs the The Magdalen and the Masons Arms, believes there are some great businesses in the town centre. She said: "We set up because we want a thriving town centre. Obviously the council wants to have more businesses in the empty units in the town centre, and we felt that businesses needed support. We are all here to be successful, and we want to be able to highlight the problems we face and meet with the people who are in a position to deal with them.
"We have tried to set the forum up to be proactive and positive - the idea is that we look at what we've got and talk about how we can make it even better.
"At the first meeting, the issue that was highlighted the most was the issue of street people. Most businesses felt it was detrimental to business and the town. We wanted that problem tackled and a positive vibe putting in the town centre.
"I think the council realised they had to do something. because there were so many people saying the same thing. We're well aware its a difficult issue but it's something that has to be tackled. There has definitely been some progress but more needs to be done."
Jackie's deputy at the forum, the marketing boss at Cast Theatre, Sian Dudley, said the forum was also keeping businesses better informed about what was being done to address concerns. Police and senior council officers attend each meeting to speak to them.
But the street people are far from the only issue that has been discussed. Town centre parking has also been a popular issue, with discussions around the costs and time restrictions, and location of car parks on and on-street parking.
There are now 81 businesses on the forum's mailing list. A core of around a dozen attend every meeting, but the forum is intended to be available for all businesses.
Helping bring about action to deal with street people is one of the forum's achievements. They are also looking at bringing in town centre business awards.
They have also instigated discussions on how to deal with empty shops in the town centre.
Some of the empty units on Waterdale are now being covered up with advertising posters, which is seen as looking more appealing than whitewashed shop fronts. It is a practice that has been carried out in other town centres.
"It is better to have the town centre showcased, than have empty buildings," said Sian. "It has been discussed by the forum, and Waterdale's owners gave us permission. People would sooner see a neat and tidy town centre than voids."
It is part of sharing good practice, which is something the forum tried to do.
There is an understanding that all businesses are interrelated. "Many of us are in different parts of the town centre," said Jackie."We all want to fight for our own areas in things like the Christmas lights switch on, but we all want to support each other too, for the good of the broader town centre.."
Sian said: "We want to see the town centre regenerated. We don't want the council to do it all on their own, but similarly we can't do it all on our own.
"At Cast, for instance, we are just one piece of the visitor experience. If someone wants to come to visit the theatre, they usually also want to come in and do some shopping and dining.
"But just hearing about thinkgs like the town centre masterplan at the meetings is also a help. It has been a good source of information. Similarly we are told about big events on the calendar, like the Tour de Yorkshire or culture week, so we can maximise the benefits to our businesses."
Businesses wanting to get involved can email firstname.lastname@example.org or attend the meeting. They can also just email an issue they want to raise.
Jackie said: "We would all love to see 100 per cent occupancy of the town centre shops, pride in the businesses, and the town centre doing well.
"Businesses is hard and you have to take hold of your own success. You can't wait for things to just fall into place. We're trying to make things happen and engage people who can help as best we can."