Can shopfront grants help Kirkby from becoming a ghost town?

New sculpture on the renovated Lowmoor Road, Kirkby.
New sculpture on the renovated Lowmoor Road, Kirkby.

Money is being made available to give shops in Ashfield a needed facelift - as traders describe Kirkby as becoming a ‘ghost town’.

The move, by Ashfield District Council, comes as a growing number of high street buildings are shuttered up and left in a dilapidated state by landlords.

The authority says it recognises the importance of the area’s town centres and shopping streets to the local economy and has set up a Retail Improvement Scheme, offering grants of up to £5,000 to cover half the cost of improvements.

The authority says it will be a golden opportunity for small businesses to repair the fabric and appearance of their properties.

It is one of several emerging initiatives being developed by the council which are aimed at supporting the local economy.

But are these measures enough to stop the rot?

Deputy leader of the council, Councillor Don Davis said the scheme offered a perfect way for new traders and small businesses to access vital funding to support growing enterprises.

He said: “Regenerating and enhancing the district’s town centre economy is vitally important to the council and we are determined to support and encourage fledgling businesses and help our town centres to prosper.”

“This really is a golden opportunity and anyone wanting to learn more about the scheme should contact us and get their application in as soon as possible.”

The scheme aims to encourage a high standard of physical improvements to buildings in retail areas throughout Ashfield and is available to existing and new retailers who would like to improve their existing businesses premises or a vacant unit which they are moving into.

The grant can be used for a range of improvements, including external repairs; improving internal shop fittings, displays or facilities; developing IT or painting exterior shop fronts.

Under the terms of the scheme, applicants could receive up to 50 per cent of the total cost of the project, up to a maximum of £5,000 and all successful applicants will also be eligible to access mentoring support for their business from a business advisor.

A further grant scheme, offering grants of up to £1,500, is also available to provide support to new start-up market traders moving into the Idlewells Indoor Market, or up to £500 for new start-up traders looking to locate to the outdoor markets in Sutton-in-Ashfield; Kirkby-in-Ashfield or Hucknall.

Businesses owner Emma Mee of Hucknall, who secured a grant from a previous round of funding, praised the scheme.

She said: “I applied to Ashfield District Council for a vacant shop grant, which enabled me to open my hair and beauty salon – Emma’s Cutting Edge – at Nabbs Lane.

“Both Ashfield and Mansfield District Councils gave good advice about the schemes available. The application process was straight forward and there was always someone from the council to talk to if I had any questions.

“The grant helped get my business up and running - without it I would have really struggled to buy everything I needed to start my own business. I have been trading nearly a year now and the business is going from strength to strength”.

Councillor Tom Hollis of Ashfield Independents said the scheme had good intentions, but it involved too much red tape for applicants.

He said: “The council has been awarded £200,000 for this scheme to create jobs. They should have put it towards setting on apprentices at the council and creating real jobs.”

Chad asked traders in Kirkby what they thought of the initiative.

Hairstylist Melissa Orange, said; “If something is being offered I’m sure people would be interested . It does need a bit of improvement, Some of the shop fronts around here are disgusting.

“Some are OK some are just grotty and the landlords don’t care. We have damp coming through both sides of the building.

“All the shops seem to be either hairdressers barbers and charity shops. I don’t think there is any interest in Kirkby, It has really gone downhill - on Saturday afternoons there is hardly anyone here.”

Mark O’Neil, of Beltons Bakery on Station Street, estimated there were between 15-20 empty shops in Kirkby, many in a poor state of repair.

He said: “It is a good idea if everybody takes part but if it is one or two out of 50 shops perhaps not. A few of the facias could do with tidying up.

“They had a similar scheme before I think it is something we will look at again.”

Mr O’Neil said people setting up in the town wanted properties that were already finished rather than having something which would look good in six months time.

He added: “Since Morrisons came trade has been slower than it was and that store is now the focal point of the town.”

Amanda Shirley, of Shirl’s Tempting Cakes, on Lowmoor Road, said: “It is hard work because Kirkby is like a ghost town.

“A lot of the shops are scruffy. The council has improved the flooring out in the streets but they could have put it into shops.

“For some of the grants you have to put half in. Even if If you aren’t taking a lot you have to put something towards it.

“I think they should be advertising it a bit more too.”

Pet hairdresser Karen Holden, owner of Kutz for Muttz said: “Most shops are rented and people are not wanting to fork out more money than they already have to.

Karen said the recent road layout changes had not helped traders.

“People still come to me but it is a special journey and they say they wouldn’t go to Kirkby now as the new traffic scheme has made it difficult for them.”

Alfie Stoppard, proprietor at Scoffers Sandwich Bar said: “It’s not something I would do myself as I rent the shop and I don’t think the landlord would be interested.

“My shop is not bad but some of them up the street are terrible .

“The shop across the road has been boarded up for years and years

Hopefully something will be done about them. They let everybody else’s shops down.”