Thursday, 07 July 2022

Henley’s great but my job is to make it better

Henley’s great but my job is to make it better

HENLEY’S new town centre manager says she will work to create the thriving town its businesses and retailers want.

Laurie-Jane Cann started work last month and will be responsible for supporting and enhancing the town centre and its economy by ensuring it is a vibrant place for businesses, residents and visitors.

She says that taking the role felt like a privilege and she is excited to be part of the future of Henley.

Mrs Cann, 47, said: “My role will be understanding what I think needs to be added to the town but it’s not my vision that is going to be implemented — it’s the community’s.

“It will be a collective vision for Henley. I’m just here to help it take shape.”

She has more than a decade of experience working in place management and says she feels positive and ready to help the town recover after the coronavirus pandemic.

As a business owner herself, she says she wants to spend time with retailers to understand their challenges and needs.

Mrs Cann said: “It’s a very stressful time for retailers and I want to be out there speaking to them to understand what is going on. Ideally, I would like to meet most of them in my first six months.

“I want to start a ‘talk of the town’ event, which will be quarterly, where business owners and retailers can meet and talk about issues that concern them.

“It would be nice to have councillors come along too. It’s a great way to get people in the same room and hopefully communicate about those problems.

“It would be an opportunity to come together, discuss any challenges and get their opinion, a space to explore new projects they might have and what I can do to help.

“I love the fact that the business community in Henley is so active and that they share the good and the bad things with each other. This will be a way for the council to be involved in it too.”

Mrs Cann lives in Steventon, near Abingdon, with her husband Geoff, 49, who works as a paint sprayer for a car business, and their two dogs, and has a son, Charlie, 30.

She was born and raised in Oxford, where she bought a lease on a pub when she was 20 and then ran it for four years.

She ran a second pub in Wheatley and later worked as manager of the antisocial behaviour team at Oxford City Council.

She was then centre manager for Oxford city centre for 10 years, helping to organise events, including the city’s Christmas festival.

She then became chief executive of Newbury Business Improvement District.

Just before the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, she set up her own business, Pink Tiger Beauty, a beauty and indoor tanning salon in Abingdon, which she still owns. Mrs Cann said: “I’ve been in place management for more than a decade and I took a couple of years to focus on my business during the pandemic.

“I was happy to step back to do that and hopefully now we’ve passed the worst of it.

“Opening Pink Tiger Beauty just before lockdown and running it through the pandemic was really tough.

“If it wasn’t for the grants we received from the Government and, in my case, some sympathetic landlords, it wouldn’t have been achievable and I think most business owners would agree with me on that.

“I set the business up in February 2020 and then decided to focus solely on it in August when I realised things were serious and that everything was not going to go back to normal anytime soon.

“It was one of the toughest things I had to do and I think that businesses that have made it through it really have a lot to be proud of and have something special about them.

“In my previous roles I worked to ensure town and city centres were thriving and what would make trading viable for them in terms of accessibility and making sure local authorities were involved in that.

“It was on a bigger scale but very similar to what I will be doing in Henley now.

“It would be foolish to take up this role and say ‘this is what needs to happen’, when you need to understand the businesses and the retailers first, so I’m looking forward to spending more time getting to know them.”

Mrs Cann said Henley should be proud of its successful independent shops and of its shop vacancy rate which is currently less than nine per cent, compared with the national rate of almost 16 per cent.

Two bakeries, a takeaway restaurant, a wine shop and a holiday home lettings agency have opened recently or are in the process of doing so.

The new openings mean that there are three shops in Market Place selling fresh bread following the launch of the delicatessen Pavilion in December.

A wine bar called Chin Chin Henley! is to open at the former Naughty Mutt Nice shop in Reading Road, which has been empty since the dog grooming parlour moved to new premises in the same street almost a year ago and holiday home lettings company Hostsmart has taken over the former Tiny Gallery in Hart Street.

Mrs Cann said: “My job will be to enhance what Henley already is. The vacancy rate here is below the national average and that makes Henley a prime example of a thriving high street.

“I feel that in a role like this you need to be able to put different hats on. I would like to work with my colleagues on an action plan, which should cover at least 10 or 15 years into the future and be around so that I can see that taking shape, developed and delivered.”

Mrs Cann succeeded Craig Buckby, who resigned at the end of February after 17 weeks in post.

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