Special Feature
Old Town community celebrates its Portas Pilot success

By Kevin Unitt 25/07 Updated: 25/07 16:22

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One of the sculpture ideas for Old Town. (s)

THE celebrations began this afternoon (Wednesday) over Old Town's successful Portas Pilot bid and the reality has started to sink in.

While no one is pretending the result is earth shattering in its significance – that the base figure of £100,000 would go far enough to satisfy the aims – it is clearly a victory which means much more than that. It means community.

The champagne, paid for out of their own pockets, flowed freely.

Behind the bar of The Grand Union, now community hub of this all new prize-winning and positive-attention-grabbing Leamington Old Town, a member of staff struggled to keep up with demand for champagne glasses.

“Before I moved here, and was looking around the area, everyone told me 'avoid this side of the river', but I came and I love it and am proud of it.

“I hope this is the real boost it needs.”

Those sentiments were echoed everywhere, the surprising and delightful news of its Portas Pilot win still only a day old.

Constituency MP Chris White, on water due to later engagements, has his office just across the street.

Enthused by the news, he was quick to state his only part in it had been a letter to government minister Grant Shapps, the sort every MP in the entire country, on behalf of their own local bid, had probably penned.

“It doesn't get much better than this,” he said. “The team ticked every box, put a bid together incredibly quickly and deserve their success.

“It is not about the money – its is mostly about the exposure this will give Old Town, a place I love working in too, and about making it a magnet for people to come to.

“It shows what can be achieved when a community comes together in a positive way. It is some truly good news we can all celebrate.”

Helen Wild, owner of the pub, one of the leading lights of the bid, milled about amid a blur of media attention which you sensed had consumed her entire day. The answers to my questions seemed honed, as if she'd had ten chances or more to say exactly what she wanted to say in earlier interviews.

“We have been so quick to hear back, its only a month since the plans were launched.

“Getting the community involved has been great, and I am proud of the area. As has been said it is not really about the money, though that will help. It is about giving this area the kick start it needs.

“Now we have draw up our plans, and put the right structure in place going forward.”

I couldn't help but be thoroughly impressed and was certainly not one to ask about how much money - if any - was being spent on consultancy and such like, as per an earlier posed question which had clearly riled, perhaps one which harked backed to the ghosts of Old Town Schemes past.

This was the only elephant in the room on such a successful day. Regenesis was occasionally mentioned in passing, almost like a naughty word.

That scheme has been and gone, having had far more money than this one and delivered – or not delivered - on different things, but when some people hear of a plan to regenerate this area they remember that one, and not in particularly positive terms.

Leamington town centre manager Dave Butler was in no mood to dwell on the past however.

“Of course you are aware of the negative perception, and I might say the unfairly negative perception, Old Town has among some people but what has really shone through is its incredible community spirit.

“It is that which impressed in their application. This scheme was launched by them, the people on the ground here, and will be run by them. It is not a case of an authority saying to them 'we are going to spend this, this and this here and there'.”

By this time it was best he tackle the buffet, which had again been paid for personally. Everyone is at pains to be clear that this scheme is being run by the people, with no motive other than to improve all of their own lives, and that of their area, as much as they can.

They should be immensely proud of that fact.

Positive news indeed.

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