THE new town centre manager for Strabane has vowed to “fight for local businesses to ensure they get their fair share of anything that’s out there”.
Emma McGill took up her new post in recent weeks and her appointment comes after many years of local business people calling for the position to be filled.
Emma brings a wealth of experience within the business community to the post, and is conscious there will be challenges ahead.
The new town centre manager’s previous roles include rural development project officer working within the Derry City and Strabane District Council area to distribute Leader funding; economic development officer with Moyle District Council which included leading and facilitating the Ballycastle Town Partnership to deliver on their strategic town development and action plan; and she is also a previous employee of Invest NI.
In particular Emma believes her time with Ballycastle Town Partnership, when she helped to deliver the strategic town development action plan, will stand her in good stead in her new post.
The manager role is appointed by Derry City and Strabane District Council and will lead on the delivery of the Strabane BID (Business Improvement District) business plan and town centre development initiatives.
In recent years there has been some division within Strabane BID and Emma is aware challenges lie ahead.
Just last year a prominent local business in the town – Doherty’s Designer Suites Ltd – refused to pay their levies to the BID and stated their intention to go to court if necessary to defend their actions. Joe and Laurence Doherty said they believe the BID ‘failed in its original remit’. They instigated a petition of concern to the council which 102 businesses in the town signed.
Keen to look to the future instead of dwelling on the past Emma McGill explained, “We are in a position where we can do a fresh start, where we can reinvigorate the BID.
“One of my aims is to engage with all of the businesses to make sure they are very clear about the BID and what it aims to do, and from that to try and encourage more business engagement.
“I would like to meet all the businesses, work with them and see what their priorities are. It’s really important to know the priorities of the area so I can try and shape the BID’s work to make sure it’s really focusing on the needs and requirements of the businesses.”
Continuing Emma explained, “The biggest struggle for any urban business is the fall-out from Covid-19 that has, and is still hitting the business sector hard. Especially with Strabane being on the border it’s a massive issue. That is something I am very keen to work alongside the BID board and businesses in Strabane to alleviate the pressures local owners are feeling.”
Local people also have a role to play as Emma explained, “Coming in to the festive period the Strabane gift card is very important and that’s a real achievable way of supporting local businesses.”
A common issue raised by local businesses owners is that they often feel like Strabane is the ‘poor relation’ to Derry and Emma is keen to address that problem.
She explained, “I would like to break that idea. I’ve heard that a lot from rural business in Strabane and it’s something I would like to address and to make sure Strabane gets its fair share of anything that’s out there, and I will be very much fighting for businesses within the town.”
Welcoming Emma to her new role Kieran Kennedy, chair of the BID said, “It’s brilliant for our town to have a dedicated resource to drive forward the BID business plan, engage in collaborative partnerships to strengthen Strabane’s economic position and encourage footfall and spend within our town centre. Emma will also be promoting and encouraging our Support Local, Support Strabane through our gift card campaign which is a key element, especially this year, in supporting our local businesses”.
With Covid restrictions in place Emma is initially meeting with BID board members by Zoom and is very much looking forward to getting to meet individual businesses owners in the town as soon as face-to-face meeting can be facilitated.