Business boost for high street

Business boost for high street

24 November 2021

BUSINESSES across the district are being given a unique opportunity to help shape the future of high streets across the Newry, Mourne and Down area.

Members of a Stormont task force spearheading a new initiative will be in Downpatrick next week for a workshop designed to provide local people with their say on how to rejuvenate town centres in a post-Covid world.

Junior ministers Gary Middleton and Declan Kearney — who are leading the task force — will be at Denvir’s Coaching Inn on Thursday, 

December 2, and are encouraging business owners and residents to come along and have their say during what is being billed as an evidence gathering exercise.

A number of local councillors have echoed their appeal for people to take part in the two-hour event which starts at 6pm.

Designed to help make town, city and village centres places where people can do business, socialise, shop, be creative and use public services, the task force is determined to make a difference, with its membership including a raft of government departments and key organisations including Retail NI and Hospitality Ulster.

The junior ministers say while there are many common and shared challenges, they recognise that every high street is different and has its own character, personality and needs that will each require bespoke local solutions.

They want to hear views and evidence from far and wide, across both urban and rural areas and are urging e everyone with an interest in the future of their local high street to respond to the call for evidence and share their views.

The task force’s visit to Downpatrick comes after it was revealed that there are currently 25 empty shop units in the town centre. 

In addition, the finishing touches are being put to a £220,000 revitalisation scheme in Church Street, while work is continuing to redevelop the former Irish Street police base and a number of empty, adjacent buildings as part of a major retail and commercial development opportunity which, it is hoped, can attract a number of leading retailers.

Ahead of the Downpatrick consultation event, the business community and wider civic society is being asked to put forward ideas on what success in high streets could look like, with the focus on family friendly destinations where people want to shop, socialise, live and work.

The task force said the series of workshops provide important opportunities for everyone to have their say and make their views known, with the junior ministers particularly keen to hear from a wide spectrum of people.

Mr Kearney added: “Our high streets are for everyone. They are important to families, communities, businesses and workers. And, whether in villages, towns or cities, the goal of the task force is to make each one a vibrant place to shop, do business, socialise and live.

“Every high street is unique. Each has different needs, requiring bespoke solutions and their future best shaped by the local community. That’s why it’s so important that we hear a broad range of views from citizens, community groups, organisations, businesses and more. Every voice matters.”

Several  local politicians are urging people to register an interest in the next month’s workshop.

Newry, Mourne and Down Council chairwoman Cathy Mason and councillors Dermot Curran and Oonagh Hanlon have described the event as an “opportunity not to be missed”.

Cllr Mason said high streets feature a wide range of small businesses which are the backbone of the local economy and it is vital that they receive the resources they need to thrive. 

“The face of our high street is changing and it’s important that businesses are supported through these transitions,” she continued.

“With these businesses at the core of our local communities, it is vital that people have their say on the vision for the future and I encourage everyone across the district to feed into this consultation and express their views.”

Cllr Curran described the work of the taskforce as “timely” and hopes that there will be a positive response from the district’s business community.

He continued: “The task force has a longer-term focus on addressing the pressing need for the transformation of our high streets in response to fundamental societal and economic changes. 

“The initiative provides an important opportunity for everyone to have their say and influence the vision that will be required to breathe new life into high streets across the Newry, Mourne and Down area.”

Cllr Curran said that in a post-Covid world, this will be crucial.

He added: “Businesses have felt the brunt of the pandemic and anything that can be done to help them and increase footfall in our town and villages is particularly welcome. The visit of the task force team to Downpatrick is an opportunity that must be grasped with both hands and I hope there will be a large turnout.”

Cllr Hanlon said the workshop provides an opportunity for people across a range of sectors to have a key input into the consultation process.

She added: “The workshop at Denvir’s offers local business owners, community representatives and residents the opportunity to come together to listen to the vision for the future and propose practical solutions and ideas to revitalise our high streets.”

The call for evidence document is available at, while responses to the call for evidence can be made to