LOW EBB: Barnard Castle's high street
LOW EBB: Barnard Castle's high street

A NEW group which aims to raise the profile of Barnard Castle and increase footfall to the town centre is to be launched early in the new year.

Led by town councillors with the support of traders, it aims to plug the gap left by the now defunct Barnard Castle Business Guild.

It comes at a time when there are 14 empty shop units in the town centre and amid concerns from some traders about the impact a new Lidl store on the edge of Barney will have on the high street. (see story on page 2).

Town mayor Cllr Sandra Moorhouse said action was needed because there was widespread realisation that the formation of a new traders’ association was unlikely. She said the initiative was prompted while she out delivering items around the town, taking note of shops that were empty or due to close and listening to what people had to say.

“I said ‘why don’t we sit down and see what we could do for the town?’. We need to give some practical help,” she said.

An informal meeting was held at the Old Well, on The Bank, after which it was decided to arrange a more formal event at The Witham on Tuesday, January 8, from 5.30pm to 6.30pm.

Barnard Castle used to have a chamber of trade. It was resurrected with the support of Barnard Castle Vision as the town’s business guild.

The guild carried on after The Vision folded but has since ceased to have meetings. A more recent attempt to set up a Teesdale-wide trade association also stalled.

Cllr Moorhouse said: “We realised there was no way a traders’ group was going to be formed because they are nearly all sole traders.

“It was great when the Vision was there as they had someone to do the admin and help the group function.

“But with no-one there to help, I had an idea to have an initiative early in January and invite as many people from businesses across the board to come and have a drink straight after work to see if we could offer them any support or if we could do something.”

Cllr Moorhouse said unlike the Vision, which was based on the regeneration of the town, the new group would focus on tourism and footfall.

She said the group may well be formed by town councillors but would operate separately.

It would also review whether businesses are benefitting from events currently organised in the town, such as the annual 1940s weekend.

“Does the 1940s weekend bring in people to spend money? Perhaps those not served by that weekend have suggestions for alternatives,” said Cllr Moorhouse.

She said the new year was the right time to launch the project.

“People will be busy up to Christmas. Doing this in January will give us the chance to find out what we could have done better at Christmas and look to the future and move forward in the best way possible,” she explained.

Cllr Moorhouse said a number of ideas had been put forward for attracting people to the town which were being kept under wraps until after the January meeting.

In the meantime, members of the town council agreed to support the project when the met last week.