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Richard Lowthian is setting up Preston’s largest independent coffee shop. Here Richard gives his reaction to the latest report that Preston has the unhealthiest high street in Preston.
Like many Prestonians, when I heard our beloved Preston labelled the “Unhealthiest High Street in the UK,” by the Royal Society for Public Health, I was shocked and also quite angry. What annoys me the most is that our city has been tarnished with a reputation that is not only undeserved but is also offensive and extremely damaging.
Whatever the well-meaning aims of this research, it has left new business start-up hopefuls like me – about to invest my life savings into developing Preston’s largest independent coffee shop – with an even bigger challenge when trying to “justify” why Preston is the right place for my first business! You can perhaps now understand why I have more reason than most to be concerned about this negative and damaging accusation!
Like all research, the correct approach to the interpretation of the results is vital. I am quite frankly shocked at the RSPH’s conclusions about Preston’s High Street and I believe that they have ignored the many and varied assets of our city. The research concentrates on problems, needs and deficiencies rather than opportunities, assets and local talent. However, we need to take an “asset based approach” to our problems. Public Health has been talking about “Asset Based” approaches for years. It simply means, looking at the visible values, skills and knowledge, connections and potential in the community, rather than being focused on the negatives.
For me the picture of Preston is much more positive!
Yes Preston, like many cities throughout the country, has experienced its fair share of difficulties as we try to bounce back from the Recession. So let us focus on what Proud Preston can offer. We have a fantastic Victorian market, steeped in heritage; a wonderful city centre park (one of the most stunning in the North West); the impressive Harris Museum and Art Gallery. However, our biggest asset has always been and will always be the proud people of Preston, who are in my experience the kindest, friendliest and most helpful people you could wish to meet. Preston already has well established networks of vibrant, innovative and community minded groups, bringing together the local creative and community talent. We also have a renowned and well respected University brimming with world class talent. So how can we build upon all of this potential?
Preston City Council must seize the opportunity to support new small business start-ups, with access to mentors, capital and affordable business rates. In addition to this, we need to create a network of new business start-ups that can support and trade with one other. This should involve a strong focus on re-investing in local talent by using local suppliers, working with local talent ranging from artists and filmmakers to butchers and farmers. We must also harness and develop the wealth of talent offered by our new graduates, employing and training a new generation of young people in all aspects of business through employment and training opportunities.
So my plea is simple. Let’s not concentrate on shortcomings and deficits, but build on what we already have. By supporting new business and making the most of local assets, Preston can become Proud Preston once more.
Let me make it clear, I am not an experienced business professional. I am, like many people reading this article, a normal guy with a dream to work for myself, doing something I love. I strongly believe that it is people like me, people with ideas and dreams, who can see potential and are willing to invest into Preston’s city centre that can help to bring the smile back to Preston’s High Street.
What is my personal hope? Well in many cities across Europe, the independent coffee shop has breathed life into the local economy. It can attract people into the city centre and work collaboratively with other new start-ups. This is why I am looking to set up Preston’s largest independent coffee shop. I believe this is what we need and I feel it will act as the much needed anchor to attract other business hopefuls like me who can see the potential rather than the problems on Preston’s High Street. I hope you can now see how the humble coffee bean may be where the answer for the UK’s ‘Unhealthiest High street’ begins!