Update on Audlem tourism

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Audlem Public Toilets, October 2011
Travelling Band at Audlem Festival 2011
Transport Festival 2011 cars
ASET Audlem Fireworks by Blitz 2011

With Cheshire East having provided funding for a number of local tourism promotion projects, the borough council asked the Audlem Parish Plan team to summarise how tourism had developed in the past year.

The following report has been sent off, which may be of wider interest.

Audlem Tourism Promotion in 2011

Introduction

Two years ago, following a breach in the Shropshire Union canal some twenty miles away, Audlem realised quite how much the village and its shops, pubs and other facilities depended upon tourism. As a result, the Audlem Parish Plan team, who were preparing their second 5-year plan in 2010, identified a number of key projects all of which were accomplished by mid-2011.

Firstly, a bid was made to Cheshire East borough council for funding to support the design and printing of a 12-page 2011 Audlem leaflet describing the village's attractions, a map of shops, pubs and other places of interest to visitors, five local walks with maps, and a list of major 2011 events. The village is well known for its Festivals and the leaflet featured these prominently. 10,000 leaflets were printed and distributed while 500-word articles were also written every month and published in local magazines in Whitchurch and Market Drayton.

Audlem saw a doubling of its retail provision in late 2009 and 2010 with eight new shops opening. Importantly, the Overwater Marina, with mooring for 230 narrow boats, had also opened recently. The marina, according to a study of inland marinas by the British Marine Federation in 2008, could bring an additional £500,000 a year into the local economy.

This boost, of course, depended on the marina's users being able to access Audlem reasonably easily. It's a 3.5 drive, with rival attractions in Nantwich a similar distance away, but only 1.5 miles on foot along the canal towpath. The problem was that towpath was in poor repair and often very muddy.

Projects

The answer, The Parish Plan team believed, was to improve the towpath so it could be used in all weathers. Discussions with British Waterways revealed that the improvements would cost around £40,000 so bids were prepared by the Audlem team for funding from the Northern Marches, Cheshire East, British Waterways themselves, Audlem Parish Council and the Overwater Marina.

All the bids were successful and work started in March to hardcore 720m of towpath from Audlem Locks to a bridge near the marina. It was a massive project involving three barges and 300 tonnes of hardcore carried out by contractors appointed by British Waterways. That project has been fully audited recently by RDPE.

The bids for the towpath work were strengthened by linking that work with the installation of touchscreen computers at both ends of the towpath, at the marina and in the Mill Shop on Audlem Wharf. Computer programs featuring six locally produced short videos and a mass of illustrated information on the life and works of the canal's engineer, Thomas Telford, the canal itself and Audlem's attractions and facilities were created.

The design was by Audlem website design company Thenmedia and the films were produced using a local actor and an award-winning film director. the copy was all produced by the Audlem Online webteam. The touchscreen computers were installed in situ at Easter 2011 and have been viewed by approximately  2,400 visitors (or groups of visitors in many cases) since. 

Three other major projects have also contributed to the improvements in Audlem's tourist infrastructure this year.

1. A local RNLI supporter, Rod Cottrell, decided that a boat service on the canal plying between the Audlem Locks and the Overwater Marina would be an important new attraction. Donations would be sought from passengers and given to the lifeboat charity to help buy a new lifeboat at New Brighton on the Wirral.

He bought a whaler hull, sufficient to accommodate 12 passengers plus crew and recruited eight volunteer coxswains. The  Audlem Parish Plan team bid for £4,000 to fit out the boat from Visit Chester & Cheshire, were successful, and the boat, called Audlem Lass, went into service on Good Friday 2011. 

It has been a tremendous success with a regular service every Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday and has carried 4,114 passengers during the season running from 23 April — 30th October with 1,399 trips completed with passengers donating an average of almost £1 each to the RNLI. — a total of £4,078.82.

2. A rough footpath from Audlem's car park and playing field down to Audlem Wharf has been a source of dissatisfaction for many years. Again, it was identified by the Parish Plan as a project that needed to be tackled and Audlem Parish Council funded and managed the project which was carried out by a local contractor.

The gradient has been improved, steps installed and the final touch of painting the steps down to the Shroppie Fly car park was provided by a team from Cheshire Probation Service.

3. In March 2011, Cheshire East council closed the public toilets in Audlem. As these were considered vital for local tourism, Audlem Parish Council took over the toilets and negotiated with Cheshire East for a sufficient sum to fully refurbish the facility which was in a very poor state of repair. That work, carried out by a local contractor, is now complete and the project, in contrast to public toilets being closed all over the country because of funding cutbacks, even attracted national attention on BBC1's The One Show.

The toilets are now fully operational and proving very popular. They carry external Audlem designs by local artist Jo Halden (photographs available) and are described on a plaque as "The first (or last) public toilets as you arrive in (or leave) the North of England".

Events

The key to all these projects is the programme of major events laid on by Audlem groups such as ASET, the Audlem Special Events Team, ADAS, the Audlem District Amenities Society and the Festival committee. Their events bring very large numbers of visitors with this year's Audlem Music Festival in May considered the best ever, and the Audlem Transport Festival in July, also a huge success with, in addition a gathering of 24 historic narrow boats on the canal.

2011 saw the return of the Audlem Beer Festival in late August — this event only started last year — while massive crowds attended the Fireworks display in November. Last year's display attracted approaching 5,000 people and 2011 seemed almost as busy, despite the event running on a Sunday. 

Visitors

It's near impossible to calculate the numbers visiting Audlem but the general view is that numbers are up with new attractions such as Audlem Lass (exact figures above), and the Historic Narrow Boat gathering adding to the success of Audlem's already extensive programme of events.

Retail provision has been maintained. While two of the shops opened in 2009 were subsequently closed, they have both been reopened with new operators meaning that every retail premise in Audlem is now fully operational — a rare retail success in the current climate with most towns and villages full of empty shops.

Award

One result of all this activity was that Audlem was awarded the prestigious 'Cheshire Community Spirit' award by Cheshire Community Action. 2011 was the first time Audlem submitted an entry for this award since 2005 when the village went on to win the national best community village title from DEFRA, beating the top villages from fifty counties to the award.

Funding

Funding initiatives, such as those provided by Cheshire East , are vital, particularly so because of the complexities caused by matched funding requirements when bidding. For example, without the £3,000 from Cheshire East, the Parish Plan team would not have achieved the 20% cash matched funding, £8,000 in all, stipulated by the Northern Marches fund, which in turn resulted in a £40,000 grant for the tow path and touch-screen computers.

The funding is also vital help to the team of volunteers that carried out the various projects. They give hundreds of hours of time but cannot provide the cash that is nearly always necessary. Local funding, local volunteers, local contractors and local councils — both Parish and Borough — have worked together and have achieved an enormous amount. Local businesses and the local community benefit and visitors enjoy a better experience and, it appears, come back time and time again.