'Save the high street', say Women's Institute as Lancashire group meets in Bolton
SAVING the high street is one of the key issues for a powerful national women’s group which held its regional meeting in Bolton.
Chairman Mary Gibson said: “It’s not just about shops, it’s about people and keeping them together. We want local councils to encourage people in every way they can to keep using our high streets.
“It’s very good news that Bolton Council has made its town centre car parks free at weekends for the next year — this kind of thing really helps.”
More than 400 delegates came to Bolton from across Lancashire and Liverpool.
The WI is currently running an SOS campaign to save high streets across the country, backed overwhelmingly by its 220,000 members.
Lancashire has more than 7,000 members in 155 groups, several of which are dotted around Bolton and Bury.
The organisation has proved an effective regional and national lobbying group, with the Government heeding its annually approved resolutions.
In this instance, though, members are hoping to influence local councils specifically.
The organisation’s nationally accepted resolution states that the WI “notes with concern the continuing decline of our high streets and the damaging effect this has on local communities”.
It asks all WI members to “support their local shops and make the high street their destination of choice for goods and services. We call on decision-makers to work collectively at all levels, to help bring an end to the decline of our high streets and ensure that high streets flourish and provide a focal point for local communities.”
Lancashire regional resolutions’ secretary Ann Pythian said “high street” in this instance might mean a row of local shops or a village shop that served the local community.
“It’s about keeping family businesses going and keeping our high streets as places where people get together, where they can meet,” she added. “This really affects local communities.”
Mrs Gibson said: “Having a vibrant high street can also help with tracing the source of food and ensuring its provenance.”
She felt this was a situation which could, for example, help prevent a recurrence of the recent horsemeat scandal. To back the campaign, WI members are being asked to shop locally, talk to local authorities about parking and transport and get involved in neighbourhood planning.
“Mary Portas’s review of the high street, the Government’s Town Centre First policy and the Business Select Committee review of the retail sector have provided some ideas to reinvigorate the high street,” says the WI campaign manifesto.
“But it’s going to take co-ordinated action by many different people; the challenges facing the high street are complex and intertwined. Solving problems with parking and business rates must be part of the solution but are not the whole picture.”
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