Councillor Tim Cheetham, Cabinet Spokesperson for Regeneration and Culture, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, gives the low down on the future of Barnsley town centre.
As our work in the repositioning of Barnsley town centre continues, we have seen great progress over the last year with The Glass Works – the £200m council-led regeneration of the town centre. Even though we have been faced with the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are well positioned to support our tenants and recover from this impact together as we move forward this year.
In the next few months, we look forward to the launch of The Glass Works and introducing this unique, experiential offering to our town, which has always been a part of our long-term vision to revitalise Barnsley town centre. The development will feature up to 25 new shops, seven new family restaurants, a Superbowl UK featuring a bowling alley and soft play centre, and a 13 screen Cineworld cinema featuring large-scale 4DX screen.
The first phase has already launched and offers a state-of-the-art Library @ the Lightbox, Barnsley Markets and an independent food court, Market Kitchen, providing the community and beyond with not just another shopping centre, but with something much more ambitious, especially given the mix between leisure and shopping.
We have been working hard to support our tenants across the first phase. The businesses in the Market Kitchen have adapted to the challenge and continue to trade through takeaway and online services which has proved successful in continuing to provide much needed services to the local community. A great example is Dolly Desserts, a family-run business based in Market Kitchen that has gained nearly 400,000 followers on TikTok, generating national interest with its online dessert videos and DIY cookie dough kits that have sold online throughout the UK.
We, as a local authority, continue to have a crucial role to play in supporting our tenants now more than ever, and through this challenging time we have paid £47m in business grants to over 5,000 companies in 2020. An additional £10m has since been issued in 2021 due to the January lockdown to further help businesses survive. To be sure that companies had the financial support in place as early as possible, automatic payments have been made by the council before receiving the funding from central government.
With a birds-eye view of the industry, we have seen the sector changing through a welcomed increase in collaboration between national and independent businesses on the high streets and a growing focus on mixed use high streets that really reflect the needs of the community, whilst drawing in additional footfall. We firmly believe this focus on the flexibility of the scheme is what the high street needs, what Barnsley needs and can complement and strengthen the rest of the town centre.
This year will see an eagerness for engagement with leisure activities upon the lifting of lockdown as people are keen to return to some kind of normality and we hope that this appetite will assist in the journey to economic recovery for the industry as a whole. Survival of tenant businesses, managing voids and creating consumer experiences whilst managing social distancing measures will be areas of focus for us as we continue to navigate through this time.