Falmouth were awarded the title of “Best Coastal High Street” in the Great British High Street of the Year competition for 2016. Nigel Makin, David Giles and Ian Carr went to investigate the reasons behind their success. Here are their findings:
Project: Town Centre Regeneration (focusing on Fore St).
Element: Falmouth visit.
Date: 24th April 2017.
Report author: Nigel Makin.
Objective: To understand how Falmouth achieved award of “Best Coastal High St”, where they started, how they got to where they are now and what plans they have for the future
Attendees: Ian Carr (Brixham Town Council), David Giles (Brixham Town Council), Nigel Makin (Brixham Chamber of Commerce)
Pre-meeting: Arrived in Falmouth approx. 1:30pm. First thing that you are greeted by is clear signage to the car park and on arrival at the car park clear tariff board next to the pay machine. We then experienced a visit to the public toilets adjacent to the car park, which were clean, inviting, freshly painted. Cubicles were clean as were the modern urinals and excellent hand washing and drying facilities. On exiting the toilets we pointed towards the town centre and engaged a street map of the town to help us with our navigation. The first 10 minutes of our visit to Falmouth was all quite positive, engaging and informative, it ticked all the boxes. It was clean and organised but without the feeling that lots of money had been invested, they just seemed to have the basics right.
On entering the “high st” we were greeted by many independent retailers in well maintained retail units retaining their original look and feel (ie shop frontages and signage) and surprisingly few empty shops and charity shops. For a Monday afternoon it was pleasantly busy with a good “buzz” in the environment.
Brixham population 18,000. Falmouth population 22,000 (+ 6,000 students during term).
Brixham main industries fishing and tourism, Falmouth main industries Royal Fleet Auxillary maintenance / port and tourism.
Average house prices: Brixham £220,000, Falmouth £270,000.
Demographics: 32% of Brixham population 60yrs +. 30% of Falmouth population 60yrs +
Our meeting was conducted in the Council Offices with Richard Gates (Town Manager) and Richard Dixon (Falmouth BID manager)
- Over the last 10 years 50% of businesses in the high st have changed hands or changed the type of business
- 7 years ago there were a number of empty units on the high st with those that were occupied looking neglected in many cases
- The “town centre team” came up with a 5 x point plan to save the town, stating that “quick wins” were imperative
- Key strategy was recruitment of a town centre manager (became Town Manager) as it was agreed that this no longer could be managed and more importantly driven by volunteers. It was accepted that professionals needed to be employed.
- Key strategy was “quick wins” to show the business community that the recruitment of a Town Manager was a justifiable investment.
The “quick wins” were as follows:
Complete / up to date data base to ensure that all businesses could be communicated with and kept “in the loop” as to developments and objectives
Cover windows of all empty high st shops with graphics relating to local themes and immediately improving the “look and feel” of the high st
Engage with local organistaions to ensure all were “on board”
Develop a brand for Falmouth that residents and businesses alike could “buy into”, could associate with and feel part of. Crucially, the “town team” went out to referendum to choose the brand / logo / strap line which is Falmouth “the spirit of the sea”
Further to the “quick wins” additional initiatives have been developed and come to fruition:
- Development and introduction of a “town bid” (unlike ours which is a tourism bid) which gives Falmouth an annual budget to invest in infrastructure, events, marketing. One of the flagship projects delivered has been a £60,000 investment in directional signage
- An official town web site covering both “visitor” and “b 2 b” requirements has been developed and launched https://www.falmouth.co.uk/
- A professional visitor video was commissioned to help sell the Falmouth “concept” https://www.falmouth.co.uk/discover-falmouth/love-falmouth/videos/
- Key events now come under the management and guidance of the “town manager” and “bid manager” so they become a true “family” of events with combined sourcing and economies of scale but still under the jurisdiction of the relevant committees.
- Trader meetings every 6 weeks: updates, issues, initiatives, networking
The outcome: of all this activity is an increase in tourism levels, particularly in the “shoulder” months, good example being the “Spring Festival”, much improved retail, socializing experience on the high st, 95% occupancy on the high st, an attractive looking high st with a diverse range of shops and a 75% / 25% mix of retail units (independent / national), a high st to be proud of and a high st that contributes to the councils’ revenue objectives. As much as anything else, it “feels” like a nice place to be and probably to live, a place that’s on the up under the excellent management of Richard & Richard, their own small team, the retailers, the cafes’, the restaurants and local organisations.
Can Brixham achieve the same/similar? Of course it can, but it needs a desire, it needs pride, leadership, forward thinking council(s), vision, bravery, some financing, professionalism.
Output/Recommendations: Everything that has been achieved in Falmouth can be achieved in Brixham and possibly from a lower starting point. But I think we need to be realistic and honest with ourselves; this is a huge task, you cannot achieve these objectives with volunteers (however talented they may be). Brixham needs 100% totally focused professional leadership with “town manager” type status. Without one we will be looking at many more desolate, wasted years. This is where the initial focus should be.