Tiverton: a Portas town

PUBLISHED: 11:14 07 July 2014 | UPDATED: 11:14 07 July 2014

The CooperaTIV sells a range of items from local crafters, businesses and makers

The CooperaTIV sells a range of items from local crafters, businesses and makers


The market town became the second place in the South West to be accepted onto Mary Portas’ town improvement scheme. GEMMA CLAPP discovers how the town is reaping the benefits

The Portas team hope more people will spend time relaxing by the river this summerThe Portas team hope more people will spend time relaxing by the river this summer

The busy town of Tiverton made history in 2012 by becoming only the second town in the Westcountry to be accepted onto the Portas Pilot Town scheme, created by retail guru Mary Portas. The scheme saw £1.5million shared between 15 towns named in the second wave in the scheme, with Liskeard in Cornwall the other South West town named in the first batch of pilot towns.

Such a huge investment has seen the town flourish in the past two years, with the community taking the reins and creating a vibrant, interesting town with plenty to see and do.

“We saw the Portas scheme advertised in a newspaper and thought, why not Tiverton?” explains Sue Griggs, Chair of the Tiverton Portas Company. “We knew the town was starting to look and feel a bit jaded and it seemed the perfect opportunity to get a real sense of community back into the town.”

One way Sue and her team have done this is by opening A CooperaTIV and A CreaTIV Hub, both community-led shops that showcase the wide range of talents and skills held by locals.

A CreaTIV Hub has proved popular with the town's artists and craftersA CreaTIV Hub has proved popular with the town's artists and crafters

“A CooperaTIV is run by eight local traders and most of the works on sale are made by them or from other local creatives,” says Sue. “It sells photography, shabby chic furniture, cake, pottery and jewellery. Katie from Chocciebar sells her delicious chocolates and the country market ladies sell fresh produce like eggs. There really is something for everyone – lot’s of country-inspired gifts and treats.”

Sue and her team have introduced a comments book to find out what visitors want to see more of, and they often hold demonstrations to make use of the space, whether that be art, food, weaving or glass-making.

Meanwhile A CreaTIV Hub has completely transformed a former rundown pub and it is now a stunning light, bright space which holds classes and workshops in the evenings and on weekends.

“We hope to have open days with local artists soon and we want to start a book club and a poetry club too. We’re also open to suggestions; if someone wants to use that space we’re more than welcome to accommodate that.”

It’s not just these two permanent shops that have been introduced to the new and improved Tiverton. Pop-up eateries often appear over town, offering delicious cakes and street food. More coach parking has also been introduced to encourage more holidaymakers to visit the town, and the four entrances to Tiverton have been vastly improved with more flowers, hedgerows and a fresh lick of paint to make a welcoming sight.

There are also hopes to get a 
book shop back into the town. Waterstones left in 2011, but are apparently considering reopening if there is a huge demand, otherwise Sue and her team hope to open a community book shop in its place. As Sue says: “every town needs a good book shop”.

April this year saw the launch of the town’s art trail, which begins at the top end of Phoenix Lane with a stunning wall of art painted by the local community, all of which relates to the town, including images of the popular balloon festival.

A wall of art is also set to be introduced as part of the river walk near West Exe. One of the bland walls will be filled with light and colour, decorated either with images of endangered species or local birds. It’s hoped this will draw visitors and locals to the area for picnics and family walks in the sun.

With so much going on, it’s no surprise that Tiverton is becoming known as a bustling creative town. Sue agrees, saying: “Tiverton’s such a wonderful place that is full of talented people. It will be a fantastic arts town by the time we’re finished with it!”

To find out more about the Portas Pilot Town scheme, visit maryportas.com/portaspilots

Community spirit

The Cadeleigh Arms just outside Tiverton had been shut for a year before the local community rallied together to save their pub from being turned into a shop or housing.

They raised sufficient funds from some 70 individuals to purchase the business in August 2012, and in November that year the community pub reopened after a lot of hard work and expenditure.

The community owns the building but lease it under favourable terms to the current tenants, who run the business as they see fit while keeping the local Cadeleigh community in mind.

Despite their success in the past 18 months, including hugely impressive turnover figures in the first year, the current tenants are sadly moving on. The community are therefore looking for new tenants who are happy to take over the rural pub or even someone to buy the whole property, with the promise that it would be kept as a local community-focussed pub.

“It’s easy to take such a vital asset for granted as, although it’s a cliché, the pub really is the centre of the village,” explains community member Miriam Hallam-Deakin. “It not only supplies good food and well-kept ales, but provides locals with an invaluable place to meet.”

The aim of the community was not simply to save the pub, but through their ongoing hard work to improve and maintain what had been an unloved and under-invested building they have creating something that should remain a viable business proposition for years to come.

“We are very proud of what we have achieved,” says Miriam. “Not just for ourselves, but because it shows other communities, who increasingly may find themselves in a similar position, what can be done when people with a common interest and a shared passion get together.”

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