Easter ‘pop-up’ for TestTowns in Larne and Carrick

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An initiative which helps young entrepreneurs develop their skills while filling vacant town centre units is to be rolled out across the borough.

Following the success of the TestTown scheme in Carrickfergus during the 2015 August bank holiday weekend, the council is planning to launch the scheme in Larne, Carrick and Ballymena this Easter.

According to a council report, the TestTown initiative involves transforming a vacant town centre property into a viable retail premise to house entrepreneurs to test trade their products.

The pop-up shops will be open for a two-week period commencing on March 21.

A total of 15 participants will be selected, equating to five per pop-up shop.

In an effort to reassure local retailers, the document stated that the TestTown intitiative would not disadvantage permanent businesses.

It said: “To avoid displacing the existing businesses across the three towns a strict criteria will be put in place ensuring that applications will only be considered from entrepreneurs who have never traded in a town centre environment and currently live in the Mid & East Antrim Borough.”

The successful candidates will be able to take advantage of three hours of mentoring tailored to their needs during and after the fortnights’ trading.

At a meeting of the Economic Growth and Development Committee on January 18, council officer Aidan Donnelly said that the local authority had originally been looking at carrying out the scheme during Christmas 2015, but had been unable to get it “in situ” for that period.

He revealed that the council wants to have the scheme up and running for Easter trading at an overall cost which would not exceed £6000, or approximately £2000 per area.

Council officers will work with landlords in the three towns to secure suitable premises within high-footfall locations.

DUP councillor Cheryl Johnson described the 2015 Carrick initiative as having been “a big success” with “mostly positive feedback.”

“I would like to see it in Larne and Ballymena,” she added, proposing that council approve the scheme.

Seconding the motion, UUP Alderman Ald Morrow said that praised the impact of the pilot scheme in Carrick on existing businesses.

“The traders were very, very surprised at the amount of people that had come through and they were delighted with the opportunity,” she stated.

All of the committee members unanimously agreed to pass the motion.

The competition and recruitment of participants launched on January 25.