The restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic meant that both the Bishop Auckland Town Team Core group and the Events Sub-Group have not met in person for over a year. While we have kept an informal link through Zoom Meetings, little work has progressed.
In December 2020, the Government announced that Bishop Auckland was one of several towns that would receive infrastructure funding through the Future High Streets initiative.
This amounted to £19.9 million pounds and with funding from Durham County and private investors, there would be approximately £26 million in total.
The bid for this funding was submitted by Durham County Council. The Town Team had no part to play and were not consulted over the plan.
A second bid under the Government’s Stronger Towns initiative was submitted in January for around £46 million. A series of projects was over seen by a Stronger Towns Board and publicised on a dedicated website and in the press. The Town Team was not represented on the Board.
Whilst we were aware of the developments, the Core Team was not meeting because of COVID restrictions. In view of these developments, some of the Core Team members and Events Sub-Group discussed our role in the economic regeneration.
The Core Team was created ‘to drive and deliver the Town Team vision, strategy and priorities.’ Technically, the Town Team is the residents listed on our mailing list that used to meet quarterly – before the meetings were cancelled due to the COVID-19 restrictions. The Core Team met between the quarterly meetings.
The Core Team was constituted to have:
- 3 members nominated by the Business Sector.
- 3 members nominated from the community.
- 3 members from the Partner organisations, Durham County Council, Auckland Castle and Kynren.
- 3 Bishop Auckland Town Councillors.
Whilst action plans had been agreed, prior to the pandemic lockdowns, the Core Team had already indicated that we needed to review how effective we were in driving a regeneration agenda rather than providing an updating service for regeneration decisions made about Bishop Auckland that we were not party to.
The Events Team was established to organise events that could increase footfall into the Town Centre. From organising a few events around 2012 in 2019 we had an annual programme of events. Around 3,000 people visited Bishop Celebrates Together, a National Electric vehicle event was added to the scheduled events and smaller events still attracted more footfall into the town.
The quality of events has improved; a change of staging company has improved the settings for the major events; local sponsorship has helped fund better quality entertainment; and a grant from the Bishop Auckland Town Council secured our funding of events.
Overall, the Events Team has been successful in organising bigger and more varied events in the last four years, building on the events established in 2012. These events have been successful in increasing footfall, which in turn, help bring customers to local businesses.
The quarterly Town Team public meetings were held in the Four Clocks Centre to report back on the action plan which the Core Team drove on their behalf.
However, the meetings themselves were more a reporting back on developments taking place in the Town. It allowed for new initiatives to be launched – ie #LoveBishopAuckland social media campaign – and reporting back from various partner organisations.
From feedback, those attending appreciated the information. However, with the Brighter Bishop Auckland Partnership, chaired by the Bishop of Durham and laterally the Future High Street fund and Stronger Towns initiative, we were not involved. At best – had the pandemic not occurred – we would have been reporting on decisions already been taken.
In looking at a review of our work, we would need to think about how residents in Bishop Auckland are informed of the developments taking place.
A meeting of the ‘Core Team’ took place on Thursday 1st July 2021 where the formal Adoption of the Reconstituted Town Team was on the agenda.
Following a comprehensive discussion, it was agreed that:
- The name should remain as Bishop Auckland Town Team.
- The remit should be amended to include events in the area surrounding the Town Centre as well.
- The Town Council should be approached to see if they would hold the quarterly public meetings. Having representatives on key regeneration committees means the Town Council is in a good position to feedback developments.
The final draft of the new Town Team Constitution was circulated to all Core Team members and no member was opposed to the reconstitution. The proposed Constitution was then then formally adopted, with a unanimous vote. The Core Team was then dissolved.