MOST empty shops in Wantage have been filled, with businesses praising Government cash support.

Of 23 vacant shops in March 2013, only three have yet to be occupied – and one of these did not exist at the time.

Business owners and residents said they are “thrilled” with the work of Wantage Town Team members Iain Nicholson and Mim Norvell.

They were hired by Vale of White Horse District Council on a one-year contract with a grant from the government’s High Street Innovation Fund.

Our top stories

It was set up by the Government following a nationwide study of failing high streets by retail guru Mary Portas in 2010.

Wantage schemes included Mill Street’s pop-up “Flashop” for start-up businesses, new town maps and a loyalty card scheme.

More than 34 entrepreneurs used the pop-up shop and five found permanent new homes. A total of 69 independent businesses take the loyalty card, with 1,500 users.

The town team also produced a prospectus to entice businesses and encouraged the town council to make the centre more attractive.

Patricia Fitzsimmons, of Grove, opened vintage collectibles shop Hopscotch and Conkers in Wantage Market Place in September.

She praised the work of the town team, whose contract was extended for another year in March.

She said: “When I wanted to open the business there were not many shops available, so the work Iain and Mim have done is very important.

“I can see the improvements as a consumer.”

Mr Nicholson said: “It has genuinely been a team effort.

“This shows what can be achieved when the town council, businesses and community work together. The whole town has been in on this.

“There are challenges in all towns but the progress here has been really encouraging.”

In the next six months the team hopes to bring more traders to the Saturday morning market.

They also hope to create an “artisan hub” in one of the three remaining vacant units.

Mr Nicholson said: “We have in mind something like an indoor market with a group of businesses, some of them working there like a potter or a blacksmith.

“It is an appealing idea and there is a community out there that could use the space.”

Vale Wantage councillor Charlotte Dickson, who sits on the Wantage Joint Economic Forum, said: “The Town Team are a huge asset to the town. We’re thrilled to have them.

“They’ve become a great go-between for retailers and the town.

“Now we’re all singing from the same sheet.”

Wantage and District Chamber of Commerce threw a first-of-its-kind party for local businesses at The Beacon on Friday night.

Future developments include a 220-seat Wildwood pizza restaurant for Market Place, due to open before before Christmas, and a kitchenware shop in the Victoria Cross Gallery.

  • Do you want alerts delivered straight to your phone via our WhatsApp service? Text NEWS or SPORT or NEWS AND SPORT, depending on which services you want, and your full name to 07767 417704. Save our number into your phone’s contacts as Oxford Mail WhatsApp and ensure you have WhatsApp installed.