A STIMULUS package aimed at helping businesses in St Helens and Earlestown survive during the coronavirus pandemic has been agreed.

In January, the council received grant funding of £1 million from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.

The fund was originally designed to enable local authorities to reimagine and reshape their town centres, however, the fund has been re-purposed to offer support to businesses that have been badly impacted by the pandemic.

A cabinet report setting out the proposals says it was clear that support for the existing business base was required if they are to “survive the dramatic change in the trading environment”.

As a result, a re-purposed action plan has been developed, proposing seven projects, following consultation with the business community.

The proposals, which were approved by St Helens Borough Council’s cabinet on Wednesday, will also form a key part of the St Helens economic recovery plan, which is currently in development.

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Cllr Richard McCauley, cabinet member for regeneration and planning, said: “The re-purposed £1 million town centre fund action plan will deliver a package of support across St Helens and Earlestown town centres, to existing businesses, to help them adapt to the much-changed high street.

“The fund will provide businesses grants to help businesses’ diversification and adaptation, create an innovative hub for communities and businesses to innovate, promote the importance of local providers and supply chains, encourage accreditation to provide reassurance to customers, develop safe cultural activities that celebrate St Helens, match those in need of employment with local jobs and help local businesses to embrace technology to compete with global giants.”

St Helens Star: The projects will look to give businesses a boost in St Helens and Ealrestown town centre (pictured)The projects will look to give businesses a boost in St Helens and Ealrestown town centre (pictured)

Cabinet agreed to the re-purposed action plan for the £1 million town centre fund to support the recovery of the town centres, post-Covid, requiring them to be completed by October 2021.

The projects proposed for the £1 million Liverpool City Region town centre grant funding are:

Project 1 – Small Business Grant Scheme – Suggested allocation £500,000. (minimum 100 businesses assisted) This scheme is aimed at providing grants of up to £5,000 to support businesses to diversify, grow and make necessary adaptive changes to continue to trade through the Covid pandemic including the introduction of Covid-safe environments and physical improvements

Project 2 – St Helens and Earlestown Centre Hubs – Suggested allocation £60,000. An innovative hub created and maintained for communities and business to use as a shared space. The proposal aims to provide Wi-Fi and broadband enabled, have communication lines, businesses will be able to access, business advice, research facilities, and there will be facilities for community use for recreational/leisure activities, meeting rooms.

Project 3 – Place Marketing and Public Engagement – Suggested allocation £100,000. Place marketing and PR that promotes town centres and encourages residents to think and act local will support economic recovery, the sustainability of existing businesses and encourage new development.

Project 4 – Introduction of Quality Accredited Schemes – Suggested allocation £20,000. Relaunch of improving standards scheme with assistance from scheme organisers. Establishment of the new badge for quality establishments in the borough focused on the visitor experience. Providing opportunity to shape the future evening economy.

Project 5 – Town Centre Animation – Suggested allocation £120,000. This project will look at a key part of the recovery process where there is an increasing need for towns and cities to set themselves apart and present their urban centres as attractive places to visit. I light of Covid safety we will need to improve the visitor experience of our town centres, develop cultural activities and art installations, making the best use of outdoor spaces within the town centres to attract an increased level of footfall, spend and profile. We will work with across the Council and with our cultural and town centre partners to ensure we maximise the monies available. This will complement existing events and activities in the town centre.

Project 6 – Council Support / Ways to Work Hub – Suggested allocation £60,000. Suggested combined with project 2 above – Proposal is to create a high-profile hub, located in vacant retail unit in Church Square, providing drop-in employment advice / guidance and access to vacancies. Branded as and staffed by Ways to Work. This opportunity will provide a gateway to wider Council services. Service will include one-to-one interviews, registrations for employers, and desk space for employment providers and recruitment. The intention is to provide additional drop in, community outreach sessions in Earlestown at a location, to be determined.

Project 7 – Digital High Streets – Suggested allocation £140,000. Project aims to provide for a well-established online marketplace with a digital place-based platform offering single click ordering, bookings and delivery across multiple businesses and business types. The Digital High Street will support businesses, self-employed people, hospitality and retail to continue to trade during these unprecedented times with online access and home delivery. It will build on the entrepreneurship of businesses demonstrated during the lockdown period. This will help local, independent businesses in local high streets and markets, return to trade and be more resilient and compete with larger global companies.