Morecambe’s Mary Portas project – did we get our money’s worth?

Mary Portas. Picture Scott Merrylees SM1002/82f
Mary Portas. Picture Scott Merrylees SM1002/82f

Champagne corks popped four years ago as Morecambe was made a pioneering Mary Portas Pilot Town and given £100,000 from the Government.

The cash was spent on improving Victoria Street to entice more people to walk between the Arndale and the Morrisons/Festival Market area.

Zoe Greenfield from Zoe's Bows at her mum's shop Barbara's Wools.

Zoe Greenfield from Zoe's Bows at her mum's shop Barbara's Wools.

But was it successful?

As the project, named after TV retail guru Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas, comes to an end, we asked Victoria Street traders for their opinions.

Zoe Greenfield from Barbara’s Wools said: “I think the street has been improved.

“I think the artwork is really good. It’s amazing how many people come and take pictures and look at it. We’ve definitely had more people wandering down the street.”

Colin Brown.

Colin Brown.

Paul Nicholson from Prestige Property Management said: “I think what they’ve done has been great.

“It’s hard to say if more people have come down the street but what they are trying to achieve is fantastic.”

But Colin Brown, who runs a hairdressers on the street, has mixed views of the Portas legacy.

On one hand, he praises the programme of street artwork, including a mural paying tribute to Morecambe sporting stars on the side of his shop.

Paul Nicholson from Prestige Property Management.

Paul Nicholson from Prestige Property Management.

On the other, he feels the project saw “wasted money and opportunities”.

“I’m glad the artwork has been done, it’s been well received and it’s the best money they’ve spent out of the whole lot,” said Mr Brown.

“But a lot of money was wasted on poor ideas and poor application. They spent £19,000 on a Morecambe website nobody knows about. They were going from one calamity to another until Deco Publique came along and brought in some professionalism.”

Deco Publique is a Morecambe arts and events business run by best friends Elena Gifford and Lauren Zawadzki.

How the front of the former Visitor office looks now.

How the front of the former Visitor office looks now.

They made their name working alongside designer Wayne Hemingway on his Vintage-by-the-Sea festival and in 2014 were commissioned to organise the Victoria Street Press art project using Portas cash. Professional artists were brought in, Deco Publique canvassed opinion from local people and ultimately delivered striking results.

Victoria Street Press is almost finished. It will include a mural called ‘Morecambe Icons’ outside the Arndale, artists impressions of entertainment legends Victoria Wood, comedian Albert Modley and Morecambe entertainer Ronne Coyles will be going outside Farrell Heyworth, while mosaics of Dame Thora Hird, Sir Laurence Olivier and Eric Morecambe, and a huge mural of artwork by local 
people, will take pride of place outside the former Crystal T’s nightclub.

Elena Gifford said: “It’s not been an easy job to work on because we’ve been working with different people and everybody has a different vision.”

The Portas project has also coincided with other work to improve the Victoria Street area. This includes Galloway’s Society for the Blind’s £1.2m renovation of our old newspaper office into a new centre of excellence for blind people and Lancaster City Council’s repaving of town centre pedestrian areas.

Elena said: “It’s been a really good opportunity to work with a collaborative group and the result makes people feel better about where they live.”

But the MP for Morecambe, who helped secure the £100,000 grant in the first place, has been unimpressed with the project.

The new Ronne Coyles street art portrait will be unveiled in Morecambe soon. Picture by Bean Photo.

The new Ronne Coyles street art portrait will be unveiled in Morecambe soon. Picture by Bean Photo.

David Morris said there was a “lack of vision from the start”.

“The Portas bid was supposed to be to help empty shops by supporting new business but the street that was picked by the Town Team, Victoria Street, was full of trading professionals and had very few empty shops,” he said.

“In spite of this the whole project has been overshadowed by personalities and local politicians’ own agendas and it has meant a lack of cohesive strategy going forward.”

But Christine Stebbing, chairman of the Town Team who were put in charge of spending the cash, pointed out the team was mainly made up of representatives from local businesses like Boots and the Arndale Centre. She said the handful of local councillors on the committee were only included because they themselves had shops in the town centre.

“Everybody thinks that Portas is just about (dealing with) empty shops but it’s not,” said Mrs Stebbing.

“The idea was to bring the street into use between the two main shopping centres of Morecambe. I think we’ve done that very well. We’ve increased footfall and now we’ve got a destination for people to come to.

“Things have changed over the four years but that’s because Lisa Durkin (North West Town Team Advisor) told us we could widen it further than just Victoria Street. I’m delighted with how it’s turned out.”

What do you think of the changes to Victoria Street and how the cash was spent? We would love to hear your views.

FOUR YEARS OF HITS AND MISSES

April 2012 - A ‘Town Team’ was put together to front a bid for Morecambe to become a Portas Pilot Town in a government scheme to revitalise flagging high streets named after TV retail expert Mary Portas.

May 2012 - Morecambe failed in its first bid to become a Portas Pilot Town as 12 other towns including Bedford, Nelson and Croydon got regeneration cash instead.

July 2012 - Morecambe was successful in a second bid and gained £100,000. The Town Team decided to target Victoria Street.

April 2013 - The Town Team held its first event on Victoria Street, an Easter street market. Reviews were mixed.

July 2013 - Victoria Street traders blasted the Town Team saying they were unimpressed with changes to the street to date. One shopkeeper said they’d put in “five new flower pots and that’s it”.

August 2013 - Then-chairman John Watkins admitted the Town Team had gone back to the drawing board as their original vision was “not up to the mark”.

October 2013 - Lancaster City Council publicly slated the town’s Portas vision. Meanwhile Christine Stebbing took over as chairman. Mrs Stebbing called the council’s attitude “extremely disappointing and bizarre”. John Watkins resigned because he had been replaced as manager of the Arndale Centre and no longer had any business link to the town.

December 2013 - Portas money paid for a temporary ice rink on the Winter Gardens car park.

November 2014 - Emmerdale star Michael Parr (Ross Barton) switched on the Christmas lights in the Arndale Centre –one of a series of celebrity appearances paid for by Portas cash.

April 2015 - Plans were unveiled for the Victoria Street Press project to transform the street by decorating the outside of buildings with newspaper-themed art paying tribute to the town’s history.

February 2016 - Victoria Street Press began with a ‘Sand and Seas’ graffiti mural on the side of the old Vic pub.

July 2016 - A popular ‘street pARTy’ art festival marked the end of the project.

HOW THE CASH WAS SPENT

Research workshop - £2,000

Town Team website - £450

Town website (www.moreinmorecambe.co.uk)- £19,150

Morecambe branding campaign - £7,165

Sponsorship of The Visitor Sunshine Awards 2013 - £400

Things To Do campaign - £377.37

Street planting - £1,515

Christmas lights - £2,031

Street art project and street pARTy festival- £29,908.11

Thora Hird statue campaign crowdfunding page - £500

Signage project - £5,000

Street markets and temporary ice rink- £14,319.94 (event took £2,238 income used towards street pARTy festival)

Street festival and events - £9,965.30

Project working with young people - £5,000

Customer service training - £735.55

Other expenses - £759.42

Remaining funds for street pARTy - £723.31

An extra £15,000 Arts Council grant helped fund the street art

The new sports and entertainment mural on the wall of Colin Brown's hairdressers in Morecambe includes John McGuinness, diving at the Super Swimming Stadium, Morecambe FC's victory at Wembley in 2007 and professional wrestling.

The new sports and entertainment mural on the wall of Colin Brown's hairdressers in Morecambe includes John McGuinness, diving at the Super Swimming Stadium, Morecambe FC's victory at Wembley in 2007 and professional wrestling.

The unfinished Morecambe Icons mural outside the Arndale. Picture by Bean Photo.

The unfinished Morecambe Icons mural outside the Arndale. Picture by Bean Photo.