Since being awarded £100 000 from the High Street Innovation Fund in 2012 the Runcorn Town Team has carried out a number of projects to improve Runcorn Old Town:
Commercial Property Renewal Grants
The Commercial Property Renewal Grants scheme was very popular and has helped improve 13 properties, bringing in at least £48,000 of investment into the town centre from the businesses themselves . The grants assisted funding improvements and/or upgrading commercial and retail property frontages located within the Runcorn Town Team focus area to help improve the prosperity of Runcorn. These grants helped to fund up to half the cost of the eligible works and in many cases more work and investment than this would have been undertaken by the business to bring the property up to standard for trading in.
Business Start-Up Grant Scheme
The Business Start-Up Grant Scheme has helped 8 new businesses to set up in the town. Grants of up to £2,500 were available to assist new business start-ups locating within the Runcorn Town Team focus area. The grant was to help cover the costs associated with making the premises fit for purpose.
In addition to these projects the Runcorn Town Team has also helped to get groups within the old town networking, enabling interaction between different groups in the town centre, for example Hazlehurst Studios worked with Halton libraries to provide an outside Rhyme time at the space they use for Old Town Bloom, thus bringing children, libraries and art groups together which is positive for everyone.
Public art programme ‘Old Town Bloom’
The Old Town Bloom project started in 2014 and has grown in success over time. A walkabout revealed an unused piece of land artists were keen to add colour and interest to. Temporary permission was granted and the empty plot of land was transformed into a beautiful garden by artists at Hazlehurst Studios. This has not only brightened up the area but brought community groups together through holding events in the garden, providing workshops in schools and using it as a vehicle to pass on art and gardening skills.
In 2015 Hazlehurst Studios built on the success of the previous year and joined in the national campaigns “The Big Lunch” a campaign about bringing the community together and “BBC Get Creative. The connections between community groups have been very important including collaborating with the library for an outside ‘Rhyme Time’ session and CO3 dance company to work with local school children to produce poetry and a dance inspired by the work of Lewis Carrol. This culminated in a performance at the Brindley theatre. For the second year in the row there was no vandalism and local residents and children continue to enjoy the garden.
In 2016 Hazlehurst secured funding from Tesco “Bags of help” funding to install a wooden book tree and toadstools in the garden. This provides a magical space for story time for children and a community book tree that anybody can take from and deposit books in, to share a love of reading. This has been well received by the public and people have shared stories of the excitement of their children at going to the garden and searching for a book.
As a result of their success Hazlehurst were asked to be a case study for the “First Steps” programme which involved some filming and interviewing of the artists. The garden has been a positive for the local community and bringing people together. It has also encouraged investment from third parties and raised the profile of the town during the wider campaigns.
Youth Graffiti Solutions were commissioned to remove any graffiti reported to them within the Town Team Focus Area to improve the aesthetics of the town.
Litter bin outside Halton Direct Link
Signage for Buddhist temple
Helped to fund a project with Power in Partnership purchasing some music equipment for the young people to use as an incentive for them to complete their studies.
Market Support – Mural, market-branded minibus and bags, leaflets
The Street Market is beneficial to local businesses and the Town Team agreed that it should be supported. This support has come in the following forms: branded plastic carrier bags advertising the Street Market which were bought in bulk and then sold back to traders; canvas bags advertising the Street market which were distributed to customers as part of events e.g. Love Your Local Market; a mural painted on the Street Market storage container also advertising the opening hours of the Street Market; a HBC internal Fleet vehicle was branded with details of the Street Market for one year; and leaflets, also advertising the Street Market, were created.
Fake shop fronts
There were a number of long-term vacant properties within the Old Town which the Town Team felt were unlikely to be brought back into use despite the grants that were on offer. The appearance and condition of these buildings were causing a blight on the environment with fly posting becoming a common problem. It was decided that three of these properties should have fake shop fronts installed: the book ends of the Camden buildings on High Street and the former Senga furnishings building on Church Street. It was decided that the Runcorn heritage trail should be the theme for the Camden buildings. The Senga furnishings building had a gallery design, incorporating pictures created by All Saints Primary School showing local Runcorn images and old photographs of the area.
These frontages have not been fly posted since the fake shop fronts have been in place and have been well received by the local community.
Christmas festival and tree
The Town Team also helped with the street clean up after the festival in 2014. The Town Team also commissioned the base for the Christmas tree and made contributions to the tree in subsequent years. The Town Team secured a sponsor in the form of Runcorn Shopping Centre for the tree in 2015 and 2016.
Map and notice board
The Town Team worked on a map of the town centre. The map was simplified and designed to show the major attractions of the town centre for visitors including the shops, car parks, street market and toilets. It was designed so that individual shops were not named so that it would not become out of date too quickly and would be produced on paper so that it could easily be printed out by the Regeneration team and replaced within the information cases should it be necessary.
This was a series of events themed around WWI to market the 100th anniversary celebrations. Entertainment took place on Street Market days on Church Street and on Saturdays outside the library during August 2015 and mirrored events in Widnes.
The Town Team purchased hanging baskets from a local market trader for businesses in the Old Town who wished to get involved. There were several positive comments about the baskets from traders and the public but it also illustrated the difficulties with maintaining such a project.
Telescope and info boards
The old viewing telescope on Mersey Road was removed and a new tourist telescope was installed 12 April 2016 and received many positive comments on social media within 24hrs of it going in. The public seem to enjoy being able to see the Mersey Gateway construction work in such detail, the wildlife and even the moon.
The information for the lectern boards was collated by Regeneration and HBC design team and produced on lectern boards by the same supplier that Open Spaces have used in other areas for their anti-vandal finish and to have continuity across the borough.