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How to…create your own TestTown

testtownmanchestersmallIn 2013, Carnegie UK Trust launched a programme called TestTown following research that found that many town centres could face significant challenges unless they became more welcoming to new businesses, ideas, technologies and customers. TestTown has enabled us to explore the potential role of fledgling entrepreneurs in addressing the challenge of town centre rejuvenation.

In the past three years we have worked with 19 different towns and have supported hundreds of entrepreneurs and 117 new businesses.

The concept is simple: local entrepreneurs are given the chance to try out their business ideas from vacant shops on the high street and get involved in conversations about the regeneration of their town.

We want to reach even more towns and enable them to use the TestTown model to contribute towards positive long-term outcomes for towns. To do this, we have created a guide – Build your own TestTown – and a portal to collate and share our learnings on the TestTown website.

Here are some top tips for creating a TestTown where you live:

  1. Showcase your town:

TestTown is about celebrating your town and finding new uses for unused spaces or areas that have been neglected or forgotten about. By simply running an event in these places, you are inviting people to visit who would not have a reason to before. By offering them a different experience, it encourages people to think differently about their town and the challenges and perceptions that exist which might be more based on view than fact.

  1. Create partnerships:

Carnegie UK Trust have been open in their search for partners to host TestTown events over the last three years and have welcomed bids from business improvement districts, local authorities, colleges, universities, town centre managers, traders’ associations, housing associations, charities and businesses and retail centres. As a result, TestTown events have been hosted by a variety of partnerships. Think about organisations and indeed mentors or business advisers that you can work with for mutual gain.

  1. Designing the right type of event for your town:

Each of the 19 TestTown events have been very different and distinctive to the place they have been held in and the people involved. Some have been held over a few months, some over a week and some over a couple of days. Think about the experience you want to create for your town and the participants involved.

  1. Timing is everything:

The programming of a TestTown week into your town’s calendar of events is important. It is best to avoid the natural ‘down’ times in the physical retail calendar. From our own experience, holding an event in February in an area with little existing footfall gives the participants almost an impossible challenge. Also if you are linking into local schools, colleges and universities – be aware of the academic calendar and plan around this. Key dates offer opportunities, we would encourage you to link in with existing events, celebrations and occasions.

  1. Focusing on longer term outcomes for your town:

A TestTown event provides the opportunity for towns and entrepreneurs to test business ideas but there are much wider town’s challenges to consider. In the guide we have outlined five ways to supercharge the TestTown concept, whether to inform your event or to support longer-term activity for your town. These include every town considering having a permanent pop-up facility in a viable trading space which offers flexible lease arrangements and every town carrying out a regular entrepreneur-led consultation.

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