Standing room only as Wisbech comes together to plot a new future

IT was standing room only at Wisbech Town Council last night as a community came together to kickstart the rejuvenation of their town.

Shopkeepers, councillors and residents signed up to become members of a new “Town Team” in an ambitious bid to make Wisbech the next project of television’s “Queen of Shops” Mary Portas.

The team has until March 30 to prepare their bid to become one of 12 “Portas Pilot” towns, which could receive up to �100,000 of government funding to help turn around “unloved and unused” high streets.

And after more than an hour of explanation, brainstorm and argument, it was decided that the refurbishment of Constantine House, the improvement of the Market Place and a new “town manager” role could be the key ingredients in Wisbech’s regeneration.

Businesswoman Jaqui Fairfax, who led the meeting, divided people into small groups and asked them to come up with their top three suggestions for Wisbech.

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Mrs Fairfax, chairman of Fenland Chamber of Commerce, said: “I’m absolutely thrilled with it. I think it was very valuable and it let people air their views.

“It is a good sign that so many people dragged themselves out on a Monday night. We had them working together in teams, which was great to see.”

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Town and county councillor Sam Hoy admitted it was the strongest public response to an issue she had seen for many years.

She said: “I have never seen the chamber that full in three years.

“It is easy to detach yourself from a bus route or a nursery but when the issue is your town getting slated it does effect you.”

Traders and residents spoke positively about Wisbech’s multicultarlism - condemning a Daily Mail article which portrayed a town “terrorised by the Baltic Mafia”.

It was agreed that the Portas bid should hinge on this multicultarlism while also looking to exploit the artistic side of the town.

Paul Davies, who owns Top to Toe hair and beauty salon, suggested building a European Food Hall to bring the community together.

He said: “If I could get Eastern Europeans to come and work in my business I would be delighted because at the moment there is a communication problem. Who wants to get their hair cut by someone who doesn’t understand them?

“Wisbech’s past is fantastic and it will never go away - but we need to develop a new culture for a new generation of people.

“It’s like the Emperor’s clothes. If you hear Wisbech is good often enough you will start to understand that - but if the Daily Mail are saying that it’s run by Baltic Mafia then there’s a problem.

“I come from an industrial town in the North East - believe me, Wisbech is beautiful.”

A host of ideas were voiced including a week-long Wisbech music festival, a new town magazine and even a Jamie Oliver style restaurant for training chefs and waiters.

Many residents pleaded for the town to be “tidied up” while there was also concerns raised about the crime rate.

County councillor Steve Tierney suggested the creation of an “arts quarter” and several people called for the appointment of a town manager to promote and organise Wisbech’s events.

Wisbech Mayor Jonathan Farmer said: “What is heartening is that there’s obviously a significant number of people who are passionate about this.”

A second meeting will take place at Wisbech Town Council on Friday from 7pm.

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