Stone Town Centre – Where do we go from here?

Today has been  a very interesting day in ALBOS land, on top of running ALBOS I have full time day job in Warrington that takes me away from Stone from 6:45am to 5:30pm.  That means that time to fit in Stone activities is normal shoe horned in to the end of the day!

BBC Radio Stoke got in touch yesterday and asked me if I’d like to be involved in talking about the survey we ran and giving some feedback on the town centre.  If you were lucky you will have heard my dulcet tones on Stuart George’s show at 5:45pm, if not then it’s on iplayer here  Skip to 1:45 to hear me!

From there it was over to the Town Council meeting for the special meeting that had been set-up with the Stone traders.

I’d request to speak as a member of the general public as I wasn’t a trader.  Nobody else had asked to speak so I had a 5 minute slot to read something out to the Councillors, Stone Traders and other members of the public.  There can be no questions or interactions in my part.

I kicked off by firstly congratulating the traders who do a fantastic job of investing in our town and providing goods and services for the people of Stone and its visitors.  I also highlighted that the decline in the High Street isn’t just a Stone problem, it’s a modern day problem.  High Streets need to adapt and carve their own way.

I then went on to talk about the recent survey that we’d ran about the Town Centre, as survey which had a fantastic response of 1,300 completed surveys in just over a week.  I explained that although people looking at our Facebook page may think that everyone has a downer on town the results of the survey showed that 95% of respondents do visit the High Street with the vast majority visiting once a week or more.

I rattled off a few facts and then fed back some pointers from the survey, full analysis still to be completed.

77% come in to the town for food and drink
The majority of visitors drive to Stone
The typical spend per visit is £10-£20
Visitors found Stone easy to get around, safe, clean and convenient
People would like to see more retail shops, especially main stream
Overall the survey scored the town a 4.44 out of 10, the highest ratings being 6 and 5 which had 18% each.

I then fed some feedback through, both personal and from the survey points.

Collaboration. We can all be involved in the solution.  Whether Councillors, Traders, Landlords, the general public and little old US! We all need to work for Team Stone
Opening Times. If your prime customers are workers then being open whilst they are at work will obviously leave you with a quiet shop.  Stagger opening hours, work together and consider late night opening or Sunday trading.
The High Street appearance. Scaffolding up around the Crown Hotel for an age, tired looking business frontages and empty shops
Misinformation and Miscommunication. There is a lack of understanding from traders and the public about who is responsible for which services and what they can actually influence.  How can sites like ALBOS help to re-inforce that message?  The town clerk handed out sheets with the roles and responsibilities and we’ll be doing a piece on that in due course.
Positive News.  Let’s be more forthcoming on good news. Crown Wharf was a prime example of a piece of news which got really good feedback.  The new Ten Green Bottles gin bar also

I wrapped up my piece and then handed back to the chairman, Councillor Rob Kenney, who then invited the traders to address  the meeting.

2 spokespeople represented the traders, Adam Jones from Granvilles and Matt Williams from The Bike Shack.

The traders had produced an excellent bulleted and organised list of trader concerns/points.  Adam kicked off by asking the town clerk to describe the roles and responsibilities of the town council vs the Borough council vs the County Council.  Once this was explained it was evident that there are some things that Stone Town Council has no direct influence over so the request was for the council to liaise with the appropriate councils to get the answers.
Adam and Matt then took it in turns to discuss points around:

  • Markets – the general appearance, stalls on offer, theme markets around things like antiques and the possibility of utilising stalls from people who don’t show up!
  • Parking – Free parking and voucher redeemed parking by the independents
  • Signage – Brown signs of interest off the A34, directions to the high street and car parks, and better policing of things like A boards
  • Town Promotion – Put Stone Town Council on to social media so they can promote the town more, appoint a town manager and market Stone as a destination
  • Stone Festival – Look at routing the parade down the High Street. Current issues with road layout means that the large HGV’s can’t turn at the bottom of the High Street currently
  • Christmas – Focal large Christmas Tree and Christmas market with Carol Singers
  • Traders – Council and Trader steering group, support one another, loading and unloading being heavily enforced and traders being ticketed while doing so, set up a traders association with representatives from Stone and Stafford Councils
  • Shopping – Late night shopping, tied to events once a month, limit charity shops, anchor store for the High Street
  • Landlords – Pressure to maintain buildings whether empty or tenanted, Pop up shops in empty buildings
  • Stone Town Council – Source from the local community when running events before going external, tidy the High Street, policing charity shops to ensure they aren’t selling too much new unused items (currently limit is 20% to receive rates rebate), how can the M&S shoppers be encouraged in to the High Street.

There was a good mix of Councillor interaction with the questions and it felt like tonight help lay the foundation for collaborative approach to bringing the High Street, and Stone town in general, back on to the map.  The next steps will be a separate council meeting to discuss the points raised and the traders where encouraged to set up their own official group.



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