£100,000 cash pot for new Guild merchants

The Empty Property Forum at the Avenham Park pavilion in Preston on Friday
The Empty Property Forum at the Avenham Park pavilion in Preston on Friday
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A cash pot will be used to support an army of “new Guild merchants” to plug the voids in Preston’s high street.

The £100,000 from the High Street Innovation Fund, a pot of cash handed to the city by the Government to tackle the problem, will be handed to entrepreneurs bidding to start-up new retail businesses.

The leaders behind the scheme have urged city centre landlords to come forward to offer empty units to house the fledgling firms.

Hugh Evans, of the Preston Business Improvement District (BID), who is part of the team leading the initiative, said he feared the cash could be squandered on paying rent and rates without the support of landlords.

He said: “If we decide to give 10 businesses £10,000 or five of them £20,000, the biggest fear is that it will all go on rent and rates rather than on building a businesses.

“What we need is a landlord who can match this investment with a rental free period to give these businesses a chance to get on their feet.”

He said the group set up to handle the fund would soon be inviting aspiring entrepreneurs to submit applications for cash from the fund and be put through “a thorough vetting process” to pick the winners.

Mr Evans said using the Guild brand would provide a “unique” element to using the cash, a requirement of the hand-out from Government as part of its push led by retail guru, Mary Portas.

Mick Lovatt, the environment director at Preston Council, said the entries did not need to be retail but had to prove they could plug gaps on the high street.

Speaking at a meeting yesterday, he said: “By the next Guild we should have new Guild merchants to celebrate.”

The scheme, dubbed ‘Portas Plus’ by ministers, has seen £100,000 handed to those areas unsuccessful in winning ‘Portas Pilot’ status.

Only Morecambe and the East Lancashire town of Nelson landed the status which will see their bid to boost their high streets led by the self-styled Queen of Shops.

Last month, the Local Data Company claimed Preston was one of the worst-hit city centres in the country.

But, an investigation by the Evening Post showed the number of voids had dropped by from 147 just 18 months ago to 126 stores today.