Vale of White Horse District Council has recruited two Market Town Co-ordinators to deliver projects funded using the High Street Innovation in Wantage & Grove. Iain Nicholson and Mim Norvell are the new Wantage town team co-ordinators and will be responsible for delivering a range of projects funded from the town’s High Street Innovation Fund.
Over the next twelve months, Iain and Mim will be working with town centre businesses, the chamber of commerce, the town council and the Vale Council to deliver projects that promote the town to residents, visitors, and businesses, attract new businesses into the town, and that will increase footfall in the town centre, improve its appearance and boost visitor numbers to the area.
Iain, who has experience in working in market towns across the county and co-founded the Oxfordshire Town Chambers Network, will be specifically tasked with supporting efforts to attract new business to the town centre. His role will involve writing a prospectus to increase commercial investment, launching a promotional campaign to promote the town and the existing businesses, and working with landlords and agents to find commercial uses for empty shops in the town. Contact Iain on Iain@prbi.co.uk.
Mim’s role will be to work with designers to create a new town map, create a display to promote the Vale and Downland Museum, work with independent businesses to promote the Wantage loyalty card, and hold a business competition to celebrate “the best of Wantage”. Contact Mim on email@example.com.
Wantage is an historic market town, thought to be the birth place of King Alfred. It is the second largest settlement in the district and a shopping and service centre for the central part of the Vale. The population was 9,767 at the time of the 2001 Census and recent population estimates released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated the population of Wantage as 10,498 in 2007. Its attractive market place and downland setting are essential components of its character. Just to the north of the town is Grove, the Vale’s third largest settlement with a population of 7,224 in 2007. More recent estimates (mid year population estimates for 2009) put the combined population of both settlements at just over 19,000.
Wantage has three primary schools, the Fitzwaryn special school, King Alfred's Community and Sports College (a secondary school), a community hospital, a residential home, a library, the Wantage Civic Hall, the Wantage Leisure Centre and the Vale and Downland Museum. There are plans to rationalise King Alfred's school onto two sites (currently on three sites), which will provide an opportunity to consider the future of the land no longer needed by the school. A challenge will be to upgrade the town’s leisure offer to meet the growing recreational requirements of Wantage and nearby Grove.
The former industrial area around Limborough Road has recently been redeveloped to provide a new Sainsbury supermarket and other retail and residential units, and the site of St Mary's School is being redeveloped for housing. In recent years, a large number of independent and national retailers have been attracted into the town (such as Costa Coffee, Umami delicatessen and Creative Cookshop) and this has increased footfall and reduced retail vacancy rates. Waitrose have recently substantially increased the size of their store. A key challenge will be to maintain the vibrancy of the whole town centre, and serious thought will need to be given to how to retain and improve the character of the historic Market Place.
The existing Local Plan has allocated land for 2,500 new houses at Grove airfield near Wantage. This will include a local centre, a new primary and secondary school and outside playing fields and a new park. In addition to this, the Vale Council is considering identifying land for a further 1,500 homes to the north east of Wantage. The Vale council will consider policies for Wantage town centre in its ‘managing development’ document.
Wantage and Grove have a very active business community supported by the Wantage & District Chamber of Commerce, the town Council and the District Council. Most of the business activity is located in the town centre, Limborough Road and at Grove Technology Park. Visitors to Wantage benefit from 2 hours free car parking in the Portway and Civic Hall car parks. The Joint Economic Forum (which includes representation from the Town Council, District Council and Chamber of Commerce) meet quarterly and support a range of initiatives to boost economic vitality including markets and a highly successful town-wide loyalty card scheme.
In June 2012, the 1000th Wantage and Grove Loyalty Card was sold. To reflect back on the scheme's first year, current card holders were surveyed about their shopping habits and their use their Wantage and Grove loyalty cards. The subsequent survey report outlining key findings can be accessed here (273.1 KB)