Cockermouth experience on the High Street Task Force

High Street Task Force Workshop

The High Street Task Force was commissioned by the UK Government in 2019 and is ‘an alliance of place making experts working to redefine the high street. They provide guidance, tools and skills to help communities, partnerships and local government transform their high streets’. They provide support to local leaders in town centres and high streets in England to help places identify what they need to do now, as well as how to plan and build capacity for recovery. More detail can be found on their website,  Civic Voice is one of the partners on the Task Force. 

The Task Force visited Cockermouth in November  to undertake an ‘Unlocking Your Place Potential’ diagnostic visit. Darren Ward attended for the Civic Trust along with representatives from the Chamber of Trade and the 3 Local Councils. 

The subsequent report from the Task Force Expert concluded that Cockermouth has many strengths,  and although it is facing challenges, these strengths put the town at a significant advantage in relation to other towns of its size in the region. The identified strengths included architectural heritage, strong array of independent businesses, proximity  to the National Park and access to green spaces, handsome high street with attractive shop frontages, cultural offer,(etc).

As a result of the process, the Experts have ‘identified the need for a collaborative new vision  as the main barrier to transformation in Cockermouth’. A clear, distinctive vision will help to set Cockermouth aside from its neighbours and a focus for then adding further animation to the town. Although the town has a history of staging strong, large events, there are portions of the week and the year that do not provide such animation. There are also areas of the town that would benefit from more significant footfall.

The Experts also identified that some diversification is needed in the town, with most residents travelling out of Cockermouth for work and not using the town centre when working from home. The economy could benefit by creating weekday uses of the town centre by adding co- working spaces and small offices as well as more opportunities in the town centre for those working from home.

The report recommends that a Town Board, (or Task Force or similar), is formed to shape the vision and strategy for the town and oversee key projects, plans and activities. This board should include place leaders from across the councils, businesses and the  community and should focus on the needs of the town rather than being organisation led. Further detailed implementation recommendations were included for consideration by the ‘Town Board’, such as utilising empty premises for pop up units, ways to activate the town on Sundays, increasing readily available visitor information, etc. The Destination Manager for Allerdale is leading the local response to the recommendations. 

The above article appears in the Cockermouth Civic Trust newsletter for January.