Ashford a magnet for traders

Investment in regenerating Ashford town centre is paying dividends, with the Kent town’s vacancy rate for empty shop units at a new all-time low of just 8.8%, below the national average.

According to Ashford Borough Council, nearly 60% of shops in the town centre are thriving independents, double the number of independent businesses found in town centres nationally.

Leading the way is Park Mall, the shopping centre purchased by Ashford Borough Council in June 2015 when one third of the shops were empty. Footfall has increased week on week and is currently averaging at an 8% increase on 2016 figures. Just two units remain vacant and are being actively marketed.

Jane and Ian Watts of Jane’s Boutique said:

“We’re delighted to have relocated into larger premises in Park Mall. Having tested the viability of our business on the High Street it’s clear that Ashford shoppers have taken us to their hearts to the extent that we are now opening on a long-term lease. This has been a tremendous experience for us and we look forward to becoming a regular face on Ashford’s High Street for many years to come.”

East Kent Mobility has completed a long-term lease and is currently refurbishing its unit. It will be opening in Park Mall this summer, having previously traded at an out-of-town garden centre.

Owner Collin Wiggins said:

“We are really excited to be opening up in Park Mall. People will know us from the concession department we had in Bybrook Barn but now we are in a position to open our own shop, with the assistance from the professional council team. It is well documented that the population is an ageing one and being able to meet real people on the High Street and talk them through the range of options we have to assist them in daily life is exciting.”

Timeless has now opened and is selling unique homewares in one of the business incubator units in Park Mall.

It sells quality homeware items that are both beautiful and unique. They have taken the space for a year.

Ian Williams of Timeless, said:

“It’s very exciting for us to be part of the resurgence of Park Mall. This is a brilliant opportunity for us to test our business on the High Street and we are pleased to be part of what is a real community of quality independent retailers in Ashford.

“The support given by the council in terms of flexibility on our licence has been really helpful to get us going and we look forward to meeting our new customers in the days, weeks and months ahead.”

Jo Wynn-Carter, Ashford Borough Council’s Town Centre Regeneration manager, said:

“The clear strategy devised by Ashford Borough Council to breathe new life into Park Mall has had a positive impact. It has enhanced the offer and has supported businesses through the LoveAshford website and everyone has bought into that vision.

“It demonstrates that the work we’re undertaking in terms of business support is vitally important to ensure that independent businesses can survive in the short-term and grow in the longer term in Ashford.

Buying Park Mall and proactively working with independent businesses has assisted the low vacancy rate and, critically, major town centre stakeholders, who have noticed the difference post June 2015.

“But more than that, the excitement that builds around new businesses through promotion on the LoveAshford site illustrates perfectly that people do still want, need and love the High Street. These are very exciting times for Ashford and show what can be achieved when the borough council and local businesses work closely together.”

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