THERE ARE hopes that Living Lerwick can “wipe the slate clean and start again” after the appointment of two new managers to run the organisation over the next five years.
Emma Miller and Selina-May Miller will take over the reins from Christena Irvine in mid-January as Lerwick town centre enters its second Business Improvement District (BID) term.
Emma Miller worked for Shetland Amenity Trust as its marketing officer alongside organising events like the isles’ Boat Week until being made redundant in November as the trust sought to make savings. She is also the new chairperson of Shetland Tourism Association.
Selina-May Miller also has a marketing background having been involved in Shetland Wool Week and the Unst Partnership, while she is also a community promoter for Shetland Arts.
The appointments could offer Living Lerwick a welcome shot in the arm after coming under some criticism for failing to offer value for money for its member businesses, with the organisation only narrowly securing a second BID term after a ballot.
The primary goal for the Millers will be to increase the numbers visiting Commercial Street, and more events could be one way to achieve this.
But they’re not looking to rely purely on one-off or semi-regular campaigns as the pair want to see people visit the street again on a daily basis.
“I’m setting up my own event management business alongside doing the Living Lerwick thing, so it kind of complements what we’re trying to do,” Emma said.
“I’m hoping that there will be more events, but we’re not going to pin everything on events, because we want to encourage folk to use the street on an on-going, daily basis – not just because there’s something going on specifically.
“We really want to work with the local businesses to try to tailor events to things that are going to suit them and their customers as well.”
Emma admitted that there have been “a lot of challenges” in the first BID, which kicked off in 2012 and saw the organisation hold events like winter parades and shopping weeks and addition to promoting businesses and sprucing up the high street.
The pair will be working remotely instead of having a designated office in the town after the lease on Living Lerwick’s premises on Mounthooly Street was not renewed to save costs.
But there are hopes that a location in the town centre could be opened at a specific time each week to allow people to see them face to face.
“We want to wipe the slate clean and start again,” Emma said. “We are aware that there’s some folk that maybe don’t look 100 per cent favourably on it as a project, but we’re kind of determined that the past is in the past.
“We want to move forward in a positive way and take everybody with us, because Living Lerwick is there to benefit the town centre businesses, not to work against them.”
Selina-May, meanwhile, said herself and Emma hope to bring a new energy to the town centre.
“With my background in events management and digital marketing and having chosen to come home from Edinburgh three years ago, I think I can bring a really fresh approach to this new contract,” she said.
“I’ve worked throughout Shetland, so I also think I can bring together views from a wide variety of folk within the isles. I think both Emma and I can bring bundles of enthusiasm and I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can achieve in the next five years.”
One of the main obstacles the Millers – who will divide the full-time post’s hours between them during the week – will face is trying to tempt people away from their computers to shop locally.
“Online shopping is convenient for folk, but you don’t get the same experience,” Emma said.
“Walking along the street is a social occasion. You meet folk and you stop for the news, you can see what’s in the shops and speak to folk.”
Living Lerwick, meanwhile, has undergone something of a director overhaul after the first BID term ended in August, with chairman Gary Bain stepping down alongside a number of other members.
David Coe (Ninian), Edna Irvine (Smith & Robertson), Jamie Tonge (Aa’ Fired Up), Dave Williams (Mirrie Dancers Chocolatier) and COPE’s Ingrid Webb have all joined as directors.
Existing members Stewart Jamieson (Harry’s) and Ben Mullay (The Camera Centre) are still on board, while VisitScotland’s Steve Mathieson continues as the acting chairman.