The empty supermarket on Bell Street could be transformed into a multi-use retail, leisure and community space if a community-led plan is successful.
A group of locals has been meeting as ‘Project Belle’ to develop a locally-driven bid for the 0.34 acre town centre site. “We’re hoping to create a viable, lively and exciting addition to the townscape. Something that will make people really proud as they walk past,” said Jackie Upton King, acting Chair of Project Belle.
Jackie has decades of experience in partnership working as part of a team delivering community schemes. She served as chair of Sturminster Newton’s SturQuest Community Partnership, which oversaw a range of projects including the building of the town’s arts centre.
Jackie was awarded an MBE for her achievements within the North Dorset community in 2009.
During the summer, as ‘Project Belle’, representatives of the Shaftesbury Civic Society, Swan’s Trust, Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce, Neighbourhood Plan and Shaftesbury Town Council’s Economic Advisory Group have been working closely with Shaftesbury Town Council’s business manager, Brie Logan, to assess the supermarket site’s long-term viability.
Jackie says that Project Belle first met to discuss uses for the former Co-op and Budgens store after Shaftesbury Town Council consulted the community over the pending sale of the Christy’s Lane Cattle Market. “It seemed clear that people wanted the old supermarket building brought into use again. There seemed to be a role for a community-led group to take that forward,” Jackie said.
During that engagement event, some residents voiced concern that the town centre site was empty. A number of people also said that there was a need for a town centre grocery store, to serve residents in the western side of town.
Project Belle has discussed multiple uses for the 15,854 square feet site. “The team is currently looking at a whole range of different things. We think at the moment the site could be used for a convenience store, small retail units, affordable workspaces for start-up businesses, a fitness centre and some small, affordable-rental flats. The options are unlimited and for that reason we are working on a detailed feasibility study,” said Jackie.
As part of this exercise, the Project Belle team has also been actively investigating funding sources. It is likely that the money to purchase the building will need to be borrowed in the short to medium term. Further funding sources are being assessed and could include a community share option, community land trust and grants.
The empty supermarket is currently in the hands of the receivers who are now actively marketing the building through their agents. Jackie says that the clock is ticking. The group believes that they will need to submit their bid by the end of November. “It means that we are going to have to do a great deal of work. Those time pressures could mean that we have limited chance of success in bringing this project forward.”
But Jackie told ThisIsAlfred that she remains hopeful. “I really hope that we can make it happen and that we will have a really ‘sparkly’, exciting, multi-use building in place of that rather dark, sad, decrepit supermarket building that is standing there at the moment. It’s something that Shaftesbury can really get behind. It can really excite us and make our town more sustainable,” she said.