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It’s been a busy few months for the Chamber, with a string of projects underway or planned. This newsletter provides you with an update. We hope you will feel that we are doing our bit to represent the business community and to strengthen Axminster for the benefit of all who trade here. Membership remains free of charge through this year but we will shortly be asking you to formally join us and pay for membership from February 2023 and will set out all the benefits. Please support us.   
- Jane Rockett, Chair
Sign-up time coming

As many of you will be aware, we have charged no membership fees for 2021. We made that decision partly because we recognised that a lot of businesses were struggling, but also because we felt that the revitalised Chamber should first prove its true worth. As this newsletter demonstrates, we are now active on many fronts that add up to working for Axminster.

We now need to put in place our fees for 2023 (chargeable from 1 February) and have agreed a £50 flat annual fee for all businesses. You will shortly receive a formal approach to join - please back us.

WHY JOIN?
 
  • You will have a free premium entry in our new business directory
  • From banners to picnic benches, we are improving the street scene
  • We are giving the business community a say in Axminster’s future
  • We are working with councils on vital renewal projects
  • We run loyalty initiatives that promote the town and its businesses
  • We are signposting training opportunities that are often free
  • We are creating networking opportunities.
Shout about your business
One of the clear messages to come from our AGM in May was that there was a need for a comprehensive Axminster business directory in both digital and printed formats. We have now agreed a plan to produce one and aim to have the digital version in place by the end of the year. A free benefit of joining the Chamber, the system we are using will allow you to input (and update) your own text and photos. It will then be extensively promoted throughout the area, with the printed version following as soon as we have sufficient numbers subscribed. Our aim is simple - to make doing business locally a first port of call. 
FIGHTING FOR FOOTFALL

Concern is growing about reducing town centre footfall brought about by the cost of living crisis. Several businesses have closed in recent months and others have sounded warnings about their own futures. The planned closure of the town’s last remaining bank (see below) is a further serious blow. The Chamber is developing plans for an autumn campaign to help traders promote their businesses in the all important run towards Christmas. Details will follow in a special newsletter.
Working for Axminster
The Chamber and its Totally Locally Axminster retail arm have been busy on behalf of businesses through the early summer. Our first step was to return six community picnic benches to the Minster Green, where they have since been the focus for much relaxed enjoyment. At about the same time came the first phase of our street banners campaign, with some 20 colourful banners adding interest to West Street, Trinity Square and the Guildhall. Our hope is that the initiative will build in the years to come to create a banners trail of the whole town. Meanwhile, the Chamber was also busy promoting local businesses at Ave Vale Show in June and running an Easter Trail and a Shop Windows Competition for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Projects to shape Axminster’s future
The Chamber is continuing to play its part in projects that aim to build a better future for Axminster. The town is one of seven hard hit Devon locations chosen for inclusion in a project which aims to deliver ‘transformational change’. The project is being led by Devon County Council working with East Devon District Council, and run by specialist economic development consultants. The newly created Axminster Renewal Forum is being chaired by District Councillor Paul Hayward who is also EDDC’s deputy leader and portfolio holder for the economy. Axminster Town Council is also closely engaged and is itself currently producing a Neighbourhood Plan for the town. Objectives for the forum include ‘shaping and guiding the future renewal of the town, setting out a vision and direction for the future of the town centre with a view to increasing inward investment’. The forum will identify up to three ‘quick win’ projects in the summer and autumn of 2022. We will keep you informed of progress.
Taking on the bank closure issue
Shock has greeted the announcement that Lloyds Bank is to close its Axminster branch. Losing the last bank in town is a serious blow to businesses as well as to the community generally. We intend to challenge the decision and to do all we can to try to reduce the inevitable impacts. We are liaising with Axminster Town Council to assess the scope for challenging the closure and will write to local MP Richard Foord to seek his input. We are also keen to do what we can to help the local Post Office promote its banking services. We will be asking what can be done to ensure that the town centre retains a cash point and talking to Nat West to assess whether it might consider extending its Monday visits to the Tesco site to include the town centre.
Worried about business rates?
Concern is growing within the business community about the impact of the reintroduction of business rates following their pandemic suspension. The problem is particularly acute for the businesses that have relocated to Trinity House which is being progressively revalued by the Valuation Office Agency ahead of EDDC actually levying the rates. We are liaising with EDDC via district councillor Sarah Jackson who is arranging for a Q & A session with the EDDC business rates team in the autumn. If you would like to be there please email secretary@axminster.biz.
Do you have some time to help drive the work of the Chamber? Or know someone retired with valuable skills? Assistance on any front is welcome but especially with managing small projects, liaising with businesses and driving social media. Please email secretary@axminster.biz.
Make the most of our station

Hospitality businesses in the town centre are being urged to put their weight behind a campaign which aims to make more of the visitor potential that lies in Axminster’s railway station. The instigator is the Community Rail Partnership which has the backing of Axminster Town Council for its ‘Stations in Bloom’ initiative and also a ‘Rail Ale Trail’. The trail concept is simple – passengers stop at branch line stations to visit participating pubs, getting a stamp each time they buy a meal or a drink. Once their stamp sheet is complete, they can send off for a free Rail Ale Trail T-shirt. Both the Axminster Inn and Castle Inn have signed up to date.

The challenge of empty shops

The Chamber is backing moves to tackle the blight created by town centre buildings in a poor state of repair. Axminster Town Council has agreed to press EDDC to use the enforcement powers that are open to them under section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act. As the Local Planning Authority it can require improvements if it decides the area is being negatively impacted by the condition of land or buildings and serve a notice setting out remedies.

The Chamber is also keen to find ways to bring premises that may be empty for a limited time back into use for displays or for some form of community use and will be exploring that issue in more detail.

WHO’S WHO IN YOUR CHAMBER?

Chair - Jane Rockett (Axminster Printing);  Vice-Chair - Karen Hussey (WG Potter); Treasurer - Jess Brooks (Bowes Brooks Accountants); Secretary - Barrie Hedges (Archway Bookshop); Management Committee Naomi Eden (Collate Interiors), Pippa Galvin (Courthouse Makers), Cllr Steve Holt (Axminster Town Council representative),  Adrian Lausch (Pink Pigeon Digital), Andy Richardson (Not Just Travel / Let’s Go), Emma Rowe (Axminster Gymnastics), Jan Rowe (Castle Garage). 
 
Our Management Committee meetings are usually held on the third Monday in each month and are open to all members, with invaluable contributions from several over recent months. The next meeting will be at the George Hotel at 6.30pm on 19 September.
Do please feel free to join us. 
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