Chamber plan gets an enthusiastic response

Declan McAlinden. INLM0811-812con
Declan McAlinden. INLM0811-812con

Plans to resurrect Lurgan Chamber of Trade, Industry and Commerce have been given a major boost at a meeting held in the town last week.

Traders represented at the meeting gave a resounding thumbs up to the moves and it’s hoped at their next meeting - to take place on August 26 - that the new body can be constituted and officers elected.

Last week’s meeting took place at a function room in the Emmanuel Church on Castle Lane, with the room packed to capacity as an independent facilitator, brought in by council to set the ball rolling, outlined what chambers in other towns were doing to promote business there and how they operated.

About 50 traders, politicians and social enterprise interests attended the meeting.

Among the politicians who attended were local MP David Simpson and MLA Sam Gardiner (UUP). DUP councillor Carla Lockhart attended, she has been a driving force behind the moves.

The DUP’s Mark Baxter was also there, as were SDLP Councillors Joe Nelson and Declan McAlinden as was he UUP’s Alderman Arnold Hatch - with apologies from MLA Jo-Anne Dobson and Councillor Colin McCusker.

Welcoming all who attended independent facilitator Deirdre Fitzpatrick outlined the purpose of the meeting: “Is there a willingness to develop a Chamber of Commerce, a new and vibrant chamber?”

From the attendance, she said, that will was quite clear.

Outlining what chambers of trade in neighbouring towns were doing she pointed to Banbridge where local shopping events were held, along with competitions such as Easter Bunny events and ipad competitions.

In Portadown she said they have Small Business Saturday, and events that, while not organised by the Chamber, were still used by the traders body there to promote business - such as the Country Comes to Town.

Looking to the next steps there was a consensus that an effort should be made to get more businesses represented at their next meeting from a broad cross section of business types - including larger players such as Tesco and Screwfix.

Events in Lurgan which could be used to help generate trade included Lurgan Park Show and the Park Rally but some of those attending felt more needed to be done to get those coming to such events out of the park and into the town centre.

The challenge posed by Rushmere was also addressed and there were suggestions Lurgan play to its strengths as a traditional market town.

The public realm works were described as high quality but some felt more needs to be done to allow shoppers access to the town.

Lurgan was said to be a niche market town and indeed some of our wedding businesses were drawing customers from across the country and even beyond.

A former president of the old chamber, Charlie Gardiner, said it had failed because of time commitments for its members.

He argued there needs to be a paid member of staff to help run the chamber.

He added: “Lurgan has never looked as good, we need to promote ourselves and there needs to be liaison with town centre management. He said it would be worthwhile looking at setting up the chamber as a social enterprise business.”

A second meeting will be held on August 26, all town businesses and other stakeholders are encouraged to attend.