Ely may not have Mary Portas, but it is fortunate in having business woman Caroline Bailey in its midst to lead on the challenge of ensuring that local businesses and the city's high street remains vibrant for years to come.
This is not the time for businesses to sit back and bemoan their fate, but to take matters into their own hands, like Caroline has, and, hopefully, she will inspire other towns where businesses are very worried about their future success, including those in Leighton Buzzard. There is no doubt that local people want local shops.
Caroline, who runs Spa ely, is the inspiration behind YourEly, a unique website and social media platform which will enable local businesses to join as members and actively engage with its community and customers, keeping them informed about what's on offer and what's going on within the city. It will also welcome views from local people on important issues affecting Ely, such as the city's new planned retail park and the introduction of car parking charges.
YourEly will host local business profiles on its website covering a wide variety of sectors, from accommodation, services, food and drink, solicitors, hair and beauty, interior design and taxis, and other business that are provided locally.
It will be launched on Friday, 19th April by the city's MP, Sir James Paice who gives it his backing:
"I am delighted to support this exciting initiative and help raise the profile of Ely's many independent shops and businesses which give the city much of its distinctive and attractive character.
"Many high streets around the UK are struggling to survive the competition from the internet and out of town retail parks and, but together I believe that we can help Ely to retain a healthy and prosperous city centre which attracts local residents and tourists alike."
Only last week Local Growth Minister Mark Prisk warned that the high street cannot live in the past, but must change to meet radical changes in consumer behaviour over the past few years. YourEly will help local shops make these changes and actively promote them.
Caroline, who used to work in finance in London before having two daughters and later moving back to Ely, will also provide mentoring to members who sign up if they need additional business support. Much of what she is offering with YourEly is being adopted by Mary Portas pilot towns, including the promotion and marketing of businesses, as well as deals, the latest information and mentoring support.
Caroline believes passionately that businesses should work jointly now to ensure the future success of Ely's prosperity:
"I very much feel that Ely is a wonderful vibrant city with fantastic shops offering personal service which is second to none, the kind of service which is valued by local people who want to be kept informed about their special offers and events.
"YourEly will provide this information using social media tools, including e-newsletters and Facebook, as well as QR codes and Twitter. We want to encourage closer links between shops and its consumers to ensure our city looks forward to future growth and prosperity.
"If we act now in Ely and form a strong group, we will be in a better position to face future uncertainties - and succeed!"
Businesses and independent shops cannot ignore the challenges of retailing today, they need to adapt, and YourEly provides the perfect platform to do this.
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