St Helens Borough Council Leader, David Baines made the decision that St Helens should apply for this funding and accordingly a call went out in late 2019 for volunteers to make up a Town Deal Board. This being one of the requirements of the Town Deal Prospectus, a document which laid out how the Council and local private business were to work together. The point of the Board was to work up a Town Investment Plan (TIP) detailing town centre projects that would be centre piece sustainable regeneration initiatives and act as catalysts for further match funding.
Following the initial meeting in late 2019, the Council Leader invited John Tabern to be the Chair of the Board. The response to serve was overwhelming and the first TD Board was 36 members strong when it commenced its deliberations in February 2020. The first lockdown occurred shortly after this, but undeterred the Chair organised online meetings, dividing the Board into four groups. This move was to reflect the four keys areas which the Towns Fund Prospectus identified – Land use and regeneration, Transport and Connectivity, Heritage and Culture and Skill and Business.
The Board identified 114 potential projects in the St Helens Town Centre area, which was an astonishing achievement leading to an extremely difficult selection process to see a final 8 projects make the TIP. The Board submitted its TIP in February 2021 and were delighted when it was awarded 25 million pounds by Government later that year, particularly as it was the highest award for a Labour controlled Council. A fitting tribute to the hard voluntary work of many individuals.
With the award granted it was time to roll the sleeves up and get into constructing detailed business cases for each of the 8 projects and again demanded time and expertise from a smaller group of individuals, giving up their time for the benefit of the town. The completed Business Cases were submitted in 2022 to Government and again approved, allowing us to focus on the delivery phase of Town Deal. This is the phase we are now in and already one of the 8 projects has completed. The reimagined World of Glass opened its doors to great acclaim in August 2023 and is testament to the hard work of the team there; however, it is also tribute to the many who have toiled away to deliver the money to make this possible.
The success of Town Deal as a catalyst has played a significant role in leveraging a further 200 million pounds in funding support for the broader regeneration plans of the Borough. With 7 of the Town Deal Projects yet to come, these are exciting times for the town, its citizens, its businesses and the spirit of innovation which has always marked out St Helens, helping to make it a world first in canals, railways, chemicals, foundries, coal and of course glass.
St Helens is a people bursting with desire to see the town move forward and embrace a new future, one built on its past glories, but very much focused on what the future can deliver. The enthusiasm which has greeted the advent of the Glass Futures development, highlights the town at its brilliant best. This timely reminder of what all generations of our people associate our borough with, is a huge confidence boost.
Glass Past meets Glass Futures is a fitting catalyst to light the blue touch paper of regeneration, so let’s crack on.
John F Tabern MSc