Aberdeenshire Council is to launch a new one-off grant scheme to help the region’s town centres bounce back from the economic impact of the lockdown.
The local authority’s Infrastructure Services Committee which met on Thursday 14 May, unanimously welcomed the use of up to £175,000 of council reserves for the creation of the Aberdeenshire Town Centre Phoenix Fund.
To be launched by the end of the month, the Phoenix Fund is designed to provide financial support for collaborative business-led projects in up to 26 larger and smaller towns across Aberdeenshire to re-launch their town centre economies.
Revenue grants of either £10,000 or £5,000 are being offered to one project in each eligible town centre.
The council has intentionally decided to keep the criteria for the fund fairly flexible and allow business leaders to decide how best to use these funds in their local area.
Councillors welcomed the fact that the funding may be used for activities such as marketing, voucher or loyalty schemes, improving digital resilience, training and events – subject to the physical distancing rules at the time.
Projects must be business-led collaborations which are able to demonstrate widespread support and commitment and will be able to run for up to 12 months after starting.
Eligible town centres have been selected using various measures and indicators, but other settlements with identifiable town centre economies can also express an interest and may be supported if there are funds remaining.
Matt Lockley, Economic Development and Protective Services service manager, said that while the council’s immediate focus was on managing the limited budget as best it can within the eligible larger town centres, he also encouraged smaller centres to express an interest in the event that any underspend or additional funding becomes available.
He added that Economic Development were already in discussions with colleagues in other services such as Transportation to carefully examine how town centres may evolve in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Infrastructure Service Committee chair, Councillor Peter Argyle, said
Our town centres are important retail, service and social places and have, for many years, been trying to adapt to increasing competition from out of town and online shopping opportunities.
By the time the social distancing measures related to COVID-19 are fully relaxed, our town centre economies will have taken another knock. Businesses will need to get going again and provide the confidence to their customers to venture back to the high street and we hope the grants available through the Phoenix Fund will help speed up that process.
Vice-chair Councillor John Cox added
We know our town centres businesses have been hit hard by the emergency lockdown measures, but we believe there are also new opportunities to be embraced.
The pandemic has renewed our community spirit and residents want to return to our town centres and support local shops, services and trades. This could be a good time for businesses in our town centres to work more collaboratively and creatively to respond to the ‘new normal’.
Registering an intention to apply to the fund is easy and can be done by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Potential applicants must advise Aberdeenshire Council if they are intending to apply by no later than 5 pm on Friday, June 26.
More details about the Aberdeenshire Town Centres Phoenix Fund, including an application form and guidance, will be appearing in due course on the council’s website.