The rebranding of Brighouse is underway
- Credit: Archant
Businesses pull out all the stops to successfully rebrand their town
Brighouse will never be pretty, but the way it has turned around its fortunes in four short years is pretty impressive.
It retains its unmistakable industrial landscape, largely generated by its former flour and textile mills, but this is now complimented by an underlying hum of industriousness when it comes to attracting tourists.
There are roadworks and scaffolding everywhere – not pretty in the short-term but key indicators of a town on the up – and an impressive raft of new events, festivals and markets on the calendar to bring extra business to a place that, not so very long ago, was on its uppers.
This impressive tide-shift is largely down to the sheer hard work and dogged determination of Brighouse Business Initiative (BBI), which was set up four years ago with a twofold mission: to preserve existing jobs and encourage new ones; and to engender a greater sense of community pride, inclusion and engagement.
‘Trading on the high street was becoming very difficult,’ said Lesley Adams, owner of Simply Flowers in Commercial Street and chairman of BBI. ‘Things were going wrong, shops were shutting and we knew if it carried on, the end result wouldn’t be pretty. So we asked ourselves ‘what can we do to get people back into Brighouse?’.
‘Other towns in the same boat decided to wait for outside help, but we knew that wasn’t the answer. Shop owners have to help each other to help themselves.’
At the time, members agreed that to achieve their ambitious goals they had to make good use of the streets and key venues to launch a series of events that would make Brighouse a tourist destination – something that had eluded the town in the past – with the future prospect of branding it ‘the Gateway to Calderdale’.
And they certainly haven’t wasted any time since. The BBI held its first market in Commercial Street in 2010 and now holds three a year (spring, summer and Christmas), which attract around 20,000 visitors per market and have been awarded the title of Best Small Speciality Market in the UK by the National Association of British Market Authorities.
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‘It was a bit of a battle at first because we had to shut some of the streets,’ said Lesley. ‘The council wasn’t keen at first but, frankly, we refused to take no for an answer and our perseverance paid off.’
When Brighouse held a Jubilee street party in 2012, offering more than 2,000 free teas, it turned out to be the biggest celebration in Yorkshire with more than 20,000 visitors. Similarly, when the Olympic torch came to town, the BBI turfed over Commercial Street and held its own mini Games for the enjoyment of 30,000 people – an ingenious ploy that led Gary Verity of Welcome to Yorkshire to christen it ‘the best Olympic torch event in Yorkshire’.
Since then, the group has launched Brighouse Arts Festival, a ten-day event with more than 30 activities, ranging from art classes to poetry readings, and the social media hub @Brighouse247, which spreads the word to thousands of followers.
It’s also further transformed the fortunes and status of the town with its massively popular 1940s Weekend – by far the BBI’s most ambitious project to date. Virtually every town centre shop takes part as the streets are magically metamorphosed with re-enactors, vintage vehicles, displays, performances, markets, dances and funfair rides.
The weekend, scheduled for June, attracts in excess of 100,000 people, with visitors piling in from all over the country, keeping the hotels and restaurants at capacity and spending an estimated £1 million in extra revenue.
‘The tickets for the 1940s Weekend go on sale six months in advance,’ said Lesley. ‘This time, the first tickets to sell were snapped up by a couple from Holland, which was thrilling because it means we’ve managed to put Brighouse on the map locally, nationally and internationally.’
The turnaround has been nothing less than incredible, especially when you factor in the knock-on effect for the hospitality sector, which is now booming as people book up hotel rooms and restaurant tables to extend and enhance their visitor experience.
‘You can feel the positivity rippling round the town,’ said Lesley. ‘I’ve been here for about 20 years (she’s originally from the Lake District) and have seen the town go through many phases. It had been in quite a steep decline, especially after the big supermarkets arrived and we lost 30 shops. That sort of thing is a very slippery slope and, once a town starts sliding, it’s difficult to stop.
‘But we were determined and, of the 180 or so shop units in town, now only about ten are empty. We’ve given visitors a reason to come back again and again and local people are now proud to say they come from Brighouse.’
Other tireless Brighouse residents have also found time to launch a community cinema, which shows films once a month at the Civic Hall (where the friendly, chatty interval is apparently as much of a draw as the actual movie); Brighouse Incredible Edible; and a widely-acclaimed Canal & Music Festival.
All this and most of them also manage to run their own high street businesses too. It’s just a suggestion, but maybe next time shopping guru Mary Portas is looking for inspiration, she should pop along to Brighouse to see how the real experts go about rebranding a town.
Just a thought.