Kentish Express Ashford & District
Town turnaround ‘thanks to officer’
A council officer responsible for turning around the fortunes of the town centre has been praised for her “enthusiasm and drive” as she leaves her role for pastures new.
Jo Wynn-Carter will be leaving Ashford Borough Council at the end of the month after working as the regeneration manager in the town centre since April 2013.
When she arrived the town centre was still struggling, with important retail spaces unoccupied and a vacancy rate at 18.9%. But the rate is now just 7.9%, and 58% of shops are run by independents.
Her work included the creation of the Love Ashford website and social media pages, dubbed the country’s first “digital high street”, which was praised by Mary Portas herself.
She has also been responsible for organising events such as Christmas family fun days and farmers’ markets to boost footfall.
The council took over the Park Mall shopping centre in June 2015, when a third of the spaces were empty. But now most of the shops are full and footfall is up by 7%.
She said: “I’ve loved my time in Ashford and it has been a pleasure and privilege to lead projects through such a rapid transformation on the high street.
“I think that we have gone from being a Portas Pilot town with much untapped promise to having a town centre with a quality retail offer.
“The engagement we see through the Love Ashford shows that people still care passionately about their high street, and the statistics show that they vote with their feet when the offer is right.”
Her efforts have been praised by Ashford MP Damian Green, who said: “Ever since I first met Jo I could see her enthusiasm and drive.
“Ashford is a growing, prosperous, well-run town and it is clear that Jo’s influence has been instrumental throughout.”
ABC Cabinet portfolio holder Cllr Graham Galpin added: “Jo has led us capably to where we are now, with a strong, independent-led offer.
“She has worked tirelessly, with great professionalism, and the town centre is immeasurably better than it has been for many, many years.”