September 4, 2015

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Written by Georgina Bowyer, Projects Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

Written by Georgina Bowyer, Projects Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

TestTown offers innovative young people the chance to test out great business ideas in town centres around the UK and Ireland.  Now in its third year, the initiative has continually developed and expanded, this time involving ten towns and a wider variety of enterprise activities.

Reviving and sustaining town centres as places that generate business and encourage social cohesion is vital to wellbeing of people in the UK and Ireland and our Enterprising Minds research showed that young people have a great contribution to make.  TestTown seeks to boost those in the early stages of developing a business idea to reach their potential.  We offer support in the form of training, mentoring and access to short-term trading space – a crucial part of the concept is the opportunity for young people to try out their ideas for real in a town centre, interacting with real customers.

TestTown was created by Carnegie UK Trust and we have co-ordinated the programme since 2013.  We want to continue to grow TestTown as a successful, replicable model and it is our belief that in order for this to happen in lots more places, TestTowns must be able to operate with minimal support from the Trust.  So in 2015, our host partners are designing and leading their activities from start to finish, including managing the recruitment of participants, creating the programme of activity, judging and selecting the winners.  The Trust is providing some financial support, advice and resources, and managing the national publicity for the programme.  We will also organise the Grand Final which will take place in early 2016.

Huddersfield tradersPart of this evolution means that towns can choose to move away from the traditional TestTown format, which provides more freedom for the activity to be designed in a way that suits the local community and environment.  It has been encouraging to see the way in which many of this year’s TestTowns build upon existing initiatives in towns.  For example, at TestTown Huddersfield, traders at the existing Alternative Market (@AlternativeHudd) will be invited to take their ideas indoors for a weekend and trial trading in a shop unit instead.  In Ellesmere Port, near Liverpool, the TestTown activity is drawing together a range of partners already operating in the area to provide an impressive offering of training workshops for young people culminating in a pop-up business fair.

We are also excited to have two TestTowns this year who are specifically encouraging entertainment enterprises rather than product-led businesses.  Great Yarmouth are running business training and coaching workshops for young musicians, performers and artists, providing them with the knowledge to turn their talentsGreat Yarmouth into business and career opportunities. The workshops will take place in vacant units and open spaces in the town centre and the activity will culminate with a showcasing event presenting to potential clients including venue owners, events organisers and local businesses.  The activity builds on Great Yarmouth’s heritage as a seaside resort, and provides an alternative way of thinking about the future of town centres that reduces the reliance on retail in exchange for an increased focus on arts and culture.

Similarly TestTown Perth is encouraging street food providers, entertainers, street artists and would-be event managers and organisers to bring forward proposals to run events in the city.  The Scotland’s Young Street Entertainers Showcase will run alongside the more traditional TestTown pop-up shops to demonstrate the importance of establishing good networks between different types of businesses.  The event will show those participating in the pop-up shops the benefits of engaging with activities in the town centre to help drive footfall and awareness of a business to potential consumers.

You can read more about each of the ten TestTowns at www.testtown.org.uk and you can get involved in a number of ways:

•    Encourage enterprising young people to apply
Details of how to apply will be available on each of the towns webpages as they become available (www.testtown.org.uk)

•    Visit a TestTown
Dates will be shared on the website and via Twitter as they are confirmed.  All of the ten local TestTowns will take place before the end of 2015.  If you have a specific skill to offer, you can get in touch with us via [email protected] or contact one of the local partners directly via the website.

•    Join the conversation on social media
We’re on Twitter @TestTown_2015 and Facebook www.facebook.com/testtown and would love to hear what you think of TestTown.

•    Start the conversation in your town

We do not have any plans to recruit additional towns to be a part of the programme, but we are happy to share learning with you.  It’s amazing what can be achieved when people work together so if you have an idea, we’d encourage you to start the conversation with other organisations in your area – who knows what might emerge!

Photo 1: Alternative Market traders in Huddersfield, Photo 2: Great Yarmouth town centre