Mayor Steve Rotheram’s £6m Town Centre Fund breathes fresh life into St Helens and Earlstown

  • Disused shop renovated to create Ways to Work advice centre

  • Night-time economy wins coveted Purple Flag award

  • Grants to help businesses adapt and compete online

  • New gym for fitness studio and high-tech scanner for designer clothes store

To watch the video with audio description click here

Town centres in St Helens borough have been revitalised thanks to Mayor Steve Rotheram’s Town Centre Fund.

Businesses across the borough’s two centres – St Helens and Earlestown – were given grants to help them keep afloat in the face of declining footfall and the rise in online shopping.

A new Ways to Work drop-in centre was created by bringing a vacant shop in Earlstown back to life while the existing St Helens branch of the advice centre was refurbished.

Cash from the fund also went towards Purple Flag accreditation for the night-time economy – a sought-after award proven to reduce crime and boost activity around pubs, clubs and restaurants.

The improvements came from the Liverpool City Region Town Centre Fund which set aside £6m – up to £1 million for each of six local authorities – to support plans to revitalise town centres.

It has funded masterplan strategies, public realm improvements, physical and digital infrastructure, business support, town centre management and events and marketing activities.

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said:

“Devolution has given the region the chance to chart our own course with local people choosing the priorities for our area. I launched my Mayoral Town Centre Fund when I was first elected to help rejuvenate our high streets, helping local councils to invest and to inject life back into the hearts of their communities.

“By working with our local authorities we have taken action to ensure they thrive over the next 20 years and now we are starting to see the results in our local communities.

“Empty shop premises are being transformed to create new spaces fit for the 21st century, high streets are being updated and important infrastructure has been put in place.”

“This is proper levelling up in action, giving local people the space and support they need to create, to learn and to build a brighter future for themselves.”

A business adaptation grants scheme saw £500,000 handed out to help to develop investment and growth in town centres following the shock of the pandemic while the remaining £500,000 was used to to fund specific projects.

World-renowned mixed martial arts club HAMMA, which was established in 2009, was among 20 businesses to benefit – securing £48,000 to launch a two-floor gym.

Another successful business was St Helens town centre designer clothes store OD’s, which employs around 30 staff and was awarded £50,000 to buy a new scanner and electronic till system.

To watch the video with audio description click here

Owner Chris O’Dea, who founded the business in 1992, said:

“The fund helped us put some new technology into the business which should stand us in good stead for years to come. The video machine gives us a better quality of photography that relates into more sales, less returns and has been an all-round advantage to the business.

“We have also been able to buy new tills which integrate into the website and build two more sites. It has helped us with our marketing and we have less downtime with tills and websites crashing because they don’t synch properly. It has been an amazing addition.

“Over the past six or seven years all town centres have seen a huge decline and St Helens is no different. We have been very fortunate to have a very loyal customer base who have stuck with us and we have been able to trade through these turbulent times. There is new funding coming into the town centre which we are hoping is going to revive our business. Everybody is excited about the plans – we just hope we can get it over the line.”

Employment and skills hubs in both town centres were given a boost with £70,000 from the Town Centre Fund.

The St Helens Ways to Work hub was refurbished and an empty shop in Earlstown was renovated to create a second centre.

This builds on a successful programme which has helped more than 3,000 people since it began in 2016 and found jobs or courses for 1,500.

Andrew Beresford, Delivery Manager, Ways to Work, said:

“The fund has allowed us to take a shop that was completely empty and not being used and allowed us to fill it with people from the council and other agencies who are here to help local people from Earlstown and beyond.

“We work with people to help them back into education, employment or training and that’s done on a one-to-one basis. It might be something simple like they need a CV or it could be something more complex like they need a particular qualification or are struggling financially or with mental health.

“Having these centres helps build a sense of community. Just by coming into town to get advice, people might nip to the shops, grab a coffee or a breakfast.”

Councillor Kate Groucutt, St Helens Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Economy, Business and Skills, said:

“With businesses and residents struggling with the combined impact of the pandemic and now a cost-of-living crisis, we need to use every lever at our disposal to support them, and working closely with the Liverpool City Region enhances what we as a council are able to achieve.

“The Metro Mayor’s Town Centre Fund has made a real difference in both our town centres, helping to protect jobs, drive new investment in local businesses, and support residents into work. It was great to visit several of the businesses involved and see how this funding helped turn their ideas into reality.”

Councillor Mike Wharton, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Portfolio Holder for Economic Development and Business, said:

“This fund has clearly had a positive effect on our high streets and town centres and the sheer range of schemes is a testament to its success. From health and advice centres to community safety, creative spaces, cycle facilities and shopfront renovation, each of the six local authority areas has found ways to address issues which are important to their residents, adding vibrancy and making our communal spaces more attractive.”

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