WANTAGE has been crowned the best town centre in a national awards scheme thanks to teamwork, businesses and councillors have said.

Wantage beat Worcester and Falkirk to win the town centre category in the Great British High Street Awards.

The title recognises the work of Government-funded town co-ordinators Iain Nicholson and Mim Norvell, who created a town prospectus to help fill 21 of 23 vacant shops in 18 months.

Working with Wantage Town Council and Vale of White Horse District Council, they also created the Mix community space for local groups like the Scouts.

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Pop-up shops in Mill Street and the Arbery Arcade were rented by more than 30 start-up businesses, five of which have now opened permanent shops.

Wantage and District Chamber of Commerce chairman Michael Dale said the news was “absolutely fantastic”.

Mr Dale, who runs Umami Deli, in Newbury Street, said: “We were absolutely astonished.

“Everyone has worked together to get this work done; it’s not just the councils or the chamber of commerce, all the traders got together.

“We have independent shops that are as good as any in the UK and we have award-winning pubs.

“This is all down to teamwork.”

Mr Nicholson and Ms Norvell were employed by the Vale on a 12-month contract in 2013 with a grant provided by the Government’s High Street Innovation Fund.

That was set up following a nationwide study of failing high streets by retail guru Mary Portas in 2010.

Their contract was renewed for a second year after schemes including public art displays and live music at the weekly market proved a hit.

They also produced new town maps and a loyalty card scheme that now boasts 69 independent businesses and 1,500 users.

The contest, run by the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Future High Streets Forum, received more than 135 entries from town teams across the UK.

Judges who visited Wantage last month said they were “particularly impressed with the strength of local partnership work resulting in the complete transformation of the town centre”.

Town councillor Charlotte Dickson said the news was “absolutely marvellous”.

She said: “It is a credit to everyone who has worked so hard, and it’s a real celebration of the town and district councils and the Wantage Joint Economic Forum.

“It feels like there is much more of a buzz about the town now, people are smiling and seem generally happier.”

The town team will get a share of £50,000 prize money and be offered dedicated support from industry experts to continue helping the town.

Vale cabinet member for economy Elaine Ware said: “The recognition really highlights the work that everyone has put into revitalising the town centre and making Wantage a place to be proud of once again.

“Wantage has really set the bar for other market towns to follow, with more people and business being attracted to the town all the time.”

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