Those funds were to encourage councils to try, test and experiment in their town centres as the recession hit. So how was the £52,000 given to Worthing used?
Around £44,000 of the funding paid the rent and rates for two years use of 40 Ann Street, Worthing as a co-working space.
A new Community Interest Company called Worthing First was set up to manage the project. Directors include Conservative councillor Noel Atkins, former councillor Peter Bennett and Carl Clarke, the then husband of the council-funded Worthing Town Centre Manager. A final director was Jim Cunliffe, director of 19 other companies and a man also involved in managing events for the Worthing Town Centre Manager.
The building had been in use until shortly before Worthing First took over, as a design and print studio.
They appointed a manager for the building, and opened after an extensive refurbishment and applying branding to the shop’s windows. However, the project failed to attract interest and closed its doors after only a few months.
Worthing First have, however, paid up front for two years use of the space which has sat empty (although their website says they have ceased trading). Their lease will expire in January 2013.
So Worthing Borough Council’s empty shop funding paid to keep a shop empty for two years.
nb: Two small changes have been made; Worthing Town Centre Manager has asked that it be made clear that she has since divorced Carl Clarke. Worthing First asked me to amend ‘have continued to pay for the space’ to reflect the fact that, in front, they paid rent for the whole two years up front.