The new Bexhill Chamber of Commerce bosses say the organisation is ‘working hard’ to regenerate the town and put it on the map.
New president Martin Riley and vice-president Howard Martin spoke about a range of topics explaining the chamber’s strategy for Bexhill after its annual general meeting on Friday (September 30).
Regeneration and tourism is one of its main priorities with commitments to lobby for high-speed rail, supporting events and working with others to improve Bexhill.
As well as celebrating and helping business in Bexhill and building skills to support and keep youngsters in the town.
“A lot of people don’t really understand what the chamber does, it’s not just about having large breakfasts every couple of months,” Mr Martin said.
“In between we are working hard for the town to deliver real regeneration change.
“What we’re doing, these things that have a national and international impact on the town and that’s what the chamber is about.
“It’s important that more people with experience and business interests in the town come to us and get involved as it’s a real asset to the town.”
Central to the chamber’s vision is a high-speed train service from London to access the capital’s commuter market and increase productivity.
The project, backed by MP Huw Merriman and many others, aims to reduce the journey time to London by 20 minutes by extending the Javelin service from Ashford to Bexhill.
Mr Martin said this would be a gamechanger and a ‘massive leap forward’ for the town which the chamber is lobbying for through its seat on parliamentary working group.
“The high-speed rail project is absolutely essential to the regeneration of Bexhill,” he said.
“We’re working very closely with the local MP and Amber Rudd to put pressure on central government.”
The issues with Southern rail through the disruptions and strikes has overshadowed any focus on future services as the current situation is not good enough, according to Mr Riley.
The pair criticised the operator as the unreliable service is damaging business and employment in Bexhill and the chamber will be part of a joint declaration to Westminster to get the matter resolved.
Another major part of the chamber’s regeneration strategy is to support events through sponsorship and advice, as well as working with Rother District Council (RDC) to ensure popular events are sustained.
“We see this as so central to creating energy and dynamism in the town, they bring so much footfall, it’s so crucial to putting Bexhill on the map,” Mr Martin said.
Mr Martin also runs Bexhill Motofest, which along with Roaring 20s and Festival of the Sea, attracted around 67,000 people to the town this year.
But he believes RDC needs to provide more funding for these and other events to keep them going, and is in discussions with the council to do that.
“We know the community of Bexhill is supportive of the events and it’s that what keeps us going,” he said.
“The events deliver tremendously for the local community and businesses and it would be a shame if key events disappeared from the events calendar and we’re working hard to come to a solution.”
The third element of the regeneration scheme involves the ‘exciting’ Bexhill Hive project.
A hub of multimedia and education in the former jobs centre on St Leonards Road will soon be opening after it was granted planning permission.
College DV8 Sussex will be running courses inside with space for a range of services, and Mr Riley believes this will help nurture young talent as well as benefitting the rest of the community.
“It’s a really exciting project where we are bringing the creative industries, education and leisure facilities right into the heart of the town,” he said.
“It’s not just about young people as it’s expanded to the whole community.
“You could have video gaming in one room and on the other hand silver surfers learning how to use social networks.”
Hive feeds into the chamber’s priority to build the skills of the town’s youth so they stay in Bexhill and do not feel like they have to leave to find work.
The inaugural Bexhill jobs fair in April was central to this as 26 people found employment through the event – 11 full-time jobs, five part-time, nine on work experience and one apprenticeship.
Mr Riley said it was a triumphant success and is already planning next year’s fair.
“We saw that job fairs were happening in Hastings and Eastbourne and not in Bexhill so we felt it was important for Bexhill to have one,” he said.
“We focused on it being about having actual jobs on offer, creating a link between the fair and getting a job.
“We hadn’t don’t it before but the measure of success would be if we could get 10 placements of any kind it would be worth the effort of putting the event on, which he surpassed.”
Supporting links between schools and employers is another area the chamber is focusing on, this could be a business asking graphic students at Bexhill College to design a logo or media pupils making a video.
Other projects include a push for retail to be seen as a viable career choice, a ‘celebration of business’ event in Bexhill and surgeries for firms.
“There’s an infinite choice of initiatives we could get involved in so what we’re trying to do is to hone in to three key areas to help make Bexhill a great place to live, work and visit,” Mr Riley said.
For more information about the chamber, visit www.bexhillchamber.co.uk.
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