GBHS 2018

GB High Street 2018


by Clare Townley, Chair of Todconnect and at the forefront of the campaign

The Great British High Street awards were introduced several years ago by the UK Government (MHCLG – Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and to be precise) who work in conjunction with private sector companies – the largest partner being VISA – and other smaller companies and PR agencies.

They aim to recognise what towns do well to promote / transform and enliven their high streets, then to, encourage and inspire others to do the same, and promote best practice.

To enter, towns have to write a bid fulfilling the criteria of the year. In 2018 it had to be about a transformational project in the town, which was quite a challenge – hence the birth of #OurPlanetTod.

OPT aimed to encapsulate all the amazing work already going on in Todmorden by many different voluntary groups and agencies, and to bring it all together.

In 2019, bids were much more straightforward – as I think they had been up until 2016 (there was no competition in 2017) – basically just a write up about all the great things going on in a town.

Entries are shortlisted centrally (we were sworn to secrecy for a couple of weeks after we were shortlisted) – then the general public gets to vote online.

In 2018 this was by a complicated combination of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

This year, 2019, it’s reverted to the much simpler and more accessible ‘e-mail vote’.

Last year the Todconnect team spent much of our time and energy endlessly explaining the voting – as well as all the other endless jobs we had to do as part of the campaign, and getting #OurPlanetTod off the ground.

We had amazing help from great designers, landscape architects, social media experts, friends helping to paint shops on the ‘visit list’, other friends bringing sandwiches, soup and providing drinks when we didn’t have time to take a break. Wardens helped to deliver ‘marketing boxes’ – not to mention friends who helped us to move and store the 200 boxes we were unexpectedly sent on 2 huge pallets.

Between us we managed to visit most local businesses, and held many productive meetings – at least 2 a week for the few months of the campaign – all then going away with long lists of jobs we had to do before the next meeting, patient families supported us whilst our little core team lived, slept (or didn’t) and breathed GBHS.

Our children even made models and drew pictures for our daily tweets.

In the finals there were around 5 towns from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in each of the 2 categories: Champion Town and Rising Star. Our ‘Rising Star England’ category had many more entrants than any of the other 7 sections, so we were up against more competition than anyone else.

For a small town with a completely voluntary team – all of whom have at least one enterprise to run and a busy home / family life, I think we put on an exceptional visit for the Judges.

Out of the hundreds of towns who entered, I think we were the only one to be visited by the VIP Judge, Debbie Hewitt, the chair of VISA EUROPE who, after we won, said “I was so inspired by the day of judging with you and the Todmorden team – such a worthy winner. With best wishes in developing your plans for your vibrant high street. Do pass on my personal congratulations to all of those involved.”

Each high street was judged against four pillars of success: community, customer experience, environment and digital transformation. The judges scores were combined with votes submitted over social media and the winners were announced at a ceremony in London in November 2018 attended by Clare and Angela.

We greeted the judges with Todmorden Community Brass accompanied by Dancing Dodos (courtesy of Andrew Kim) and gave our judges fantastic goody bags containing gifts kindly donated by various local shops and businesses, also a wonderfully designed map of the route of the visit (which included an Art Trail of around 100 environmental posters painted by Tod High Students) and a very comprehensive Action Plan for the year after their visit.

We haven’t managed to stick to it 100% because a) it was very ambitious, b) we don’t have the time and/or money to do all of it, and c) priorities, people and opportunities change all the time – we’re now concentrating on ‘There’s More in Todmorden’.

We are however very much keeping our eye on the #OurPlanetTod and aim to build on our ‘Green Business Project’ – with discussions currently underway.

Having been involved in the judging of GBHS this year I am even more proud of Todmorden’s winning bid, as so many other of the shortlisted towns, and last year’s winning towns are ether part of a BID (business improvement district, whereby all business pay towards the employment of at least one staff member), or have a full time professional Town Centre Manager.

We were entirely volunteers, with a little bit of help from our friends at CMBC. So, I think we’ll be very well placed to enter the ‘Championship’ section soon!