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An open letter to Mary Portas


Hi Mary. You may or may not remember me, but my name is Todd and I led the Warwick Portas Pilot campaign back in 2012. You spurred us on to start a Portas Pilot after meeting David and Jerry from Hatton and Harding at the Telegraph best small shop awards back in February 2012. You followed me on Twitter a while back on my previous company account (@UnderwoodWines) and we exchanged a few DMs during the campaign. You also very kindly tweeted the link to my blogs which were the driving force behind the movement in Warwick. 


Warwick didn't win a Portas Pilot, and I'm glad we didn't, but not for the reasons I read about in the press lately. I felt I had to stand up for you, the Portas Pilot scheme, and the high street, as they are all getting a bit of a bashing. So here goes...

In Warwick we have just had our first #WarwickRocks Food & Film festival. It was a great week of food, film and general good feeling in the historic town of Warwick. There were drive-in cinemas, street food, open air cinema, themed quiz nights, a real ale trail, and also involvement from Warwick Castle and the Racecourse and sponsorship from other large businesses. Local radio and newspapers were very much behind the festival and Touch FM broadcast live from the opening street party on Smith Street. 

A small but focused group of local people got together and pitched for the 'Operation Footfall' money and successfully won £25,000 to put on this #WarwickRocks event. There are plans for another week-long celebration of Food and Film next year already, and businesses, locals, media and outsiders are all very much behind it already.

Prior to that the council gave our Portas Pilot town team £16,000 to spend on 're-launching' Warwick after some major roadworks (put in just after the Portas campaign) ground Warwick to a halt, making it a no-go zone for visitors. The town team used the #WarwickRocks branding to get Warwick's spirit back and gave away free shopping bags (still used today, nine months on), clothing, a market stall, a new community website, town guide etc, and it also generated more media buzz and support post roadwork completion.  

You may wonder where you fit in to all this. Obviously your Portas Pilot was a part of our brief history there, but I wanted to state some facts, for you, the media intent on calling your Pilots 'Nostalgic', and to other towns in need of help. 

#WarwickRocks was a brand born out of the Portas Pilot buzz in Warwick. It was initially just a hashtag on Twitter, but thanks to a quick-thinking designer and many local people, including Jack Linstead who still work on the #WarwickRocks project today, it became the brand that accompanied the Portas Pilot campaign and then stayed long after Grant Shapps announced the winners. None of this would have happened without your Pilot. The Portas buzz around the town truly inspired people, it got the media involved, it made the councils listen, and it forged relationships and community spirit that are stronger now than they were before. 

I always maintained that we didn't lose the Portas Pilot, we won a community. We won support from businesses, we won support from the media. Warwick gained kudos across the social networks that still lives on today, and many local towns and cities want what now we have. 

My suggestion to other towns and cities and indeed to the media set on blackening the name of the Portas Pilot is this:

"No man is an army, but every town and city has one within it."

Warwick got up off their backsides and made it happen. You made us realise that we needed to do something, and your high profile allowed us to hook into a media frenzy that got us recognised and listened to. From school children to our local MP, we worked together, and we took your idea and your values to make it work. Too often in the world we want everything now, without effort, and that simply doesn't work with the High Street. There's no quick fix, and Warwick is still working hard today to continue its progression and development. 

So on behalf on Warwick (I hope that's OK Warwickians?) I would like to thank you for giving us a kick up the proverbial! We're still working and we're still hopeful that our High Street will not only survive, but it will flourish. 

It can be hard to keep going when all around you are set to pull you back, but I wanted to let you know that your passion and determination for the high street has done great things here in Warwick. Keep up the good work, and thank you Mary! 

Kindest regards,

Todd @WarwickTweetup 




Mary Portas read my open letter and responded on Twitter.


My name is Graham Todd and I’ve been immersed in social media for almost three years. I train, blog and manage social media for business.

Find me on Google+

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