KGV College and Southport College CEO and Principal Michelle Brabner

Interview by Andrew Brown

Diversifying the local economy and providing better opportunities for young people in our town is the key to Southport’s future.

That is the view of Southport College Principal and CEO Michelle Brabner, who is working alongside local businesses to try and create brighter prospects for future generations.

For the past few months she has enjoyed her role on the Southport Town Deal Board which in March was awarded £37.5million by the Government – the most awarded in the Budget to any of the UK’s Town Deal recipients.

It validated the strong submission which the Southport team put forward, with a range of projects that focused on future-proofing the local economy and providing new and exciting opportunities for young people.

Michelle Brabner said: “We became so involved in the Southport Town Deal process because it became evident that the board needed access to young people locally to hear what they thought of Southport and how they want to see it develop. We wanted to talk with the younger generation and see what they needed here.

How the new look Southport events centre could look

How the new look Southport events centre could look

“The students at Southport College set up a shadow board and carried out some project work.

“It was a great experience for all involved.

“The voices of young people really came through in the final Southport Town Deal submission.

“We want to make Southport a place not just where people enjoy to come and visit, but there has to be a stayability aspect to it as well.

“I think if the projects within the Town Deal come to full fruition, Southport will become a very vibrant place to be.

“People will be keen to travel to be here as well as staying here long term.

“Some of the things which are in that plan are really different.”

There are a variety of projects included in the proposals. They include building a new theatre, events and conference centre; providing infrastructure support for Southport Pleasureland to become a year-round attraction; creating a new light show in Marine Lake; and providing business incubator and co-working space.

The £37.5million Town Deal funding is in addition to the £1million Town Deal Acceleration Grant which was secured by Michelle Brabner and the other Town Deal board members last year.

The funding has seen £100,000 provided to support the Southport BID project to create a “boulevard of light” along Lord Street, with 300,000 new lights giving a real boost to late-night shopping and dining.

A total of £900,000 has been used to support the transformation of Southport Market into an exciting new food, drink and events hub which is due to open in the next few weeks.

Instead of charging prohibitive rents, Sefton Council is offering units at an attractive 15% of turnover. The idea is to reduce risks and encourage young people starting new businesses to come forward and see what they can do.

The brand new look Southport Market is on course to open its doors this summe

Michelle Brabner said: “To have a real impact through Town Deal, we need to realise some short term gains so people can see change happening now.

“I love the new lights along Lord Street, and I am looking forward to seeing the new Southport Market open soon.

“To have these things, where people can experience change happening, really helps.

“If people see things happening in our town it will draw other people in to invest.”

The longer term goal however is all about providing more, and better, opportunities for young people in Southport.

Michelle Brabner said: “Diversifying the local economy is so important. Making Southport a good place for business start-ups as well as supporting established businesses is a pathway to success.

“Southport BID and what they are working to achieve is really important in helping that process to happen.

“We are really committed to being involved in whatever comes next for Southport.

“We are here for the town and the surrounding area, and that includes local employers and what they need from us.

“We want Southport to be a place where people consider it as their long term home, instead of feeling they have to move out to big cities such as Liverpool, Manchester or Leeds.

“They need the option to make Southport their home and to be confident that they can build a future here.

“Southport Town Deal, and the millions of pounds of investment that has been secured through that, is a real game changer in that respect.”

Schemes include the development of a new Southport theatre, events and conference centre, which will have more for the younger generation to enjoy both in terms of jobs and enjoyment.

The creation of events such as esports is one aspect that people can look forward to.

New incubator spaces for start-up businesses and co-working spaces, initially in Crown Buildings, are also being created to give a platform for young entrepreneurs and prevent the problem of “youth flight” that has occurred for too long.

How Lord Street in Southport could look under the Soputhport Town Deal plans

How Lord Street in Southport could look under the Soputhport Town Deal plans

Michelle Brabner said: “The plans for the new Southport theatre, events and conference centre are so exciting. We have an opportunity to make Southport different to anywhere else. That is what makes towns so successful.

“It has got to the stage where you can visit lots of towns in the UK and you will see the same things, the same shops, and they all seem similar.

“People will come to Southport once they discover there is something a little bit different here.”

Michelle Brabner is a Board Member of Southport Business Improvement District (Southport BID), where one of the tasks is to encourage and develop the town’s growing digital sector.

IT firm Techedia is currently carrying out the £1million conversion of the former Christ Church School building on Corporation Street – a short walk from Southport College – into its new HQ, creating 75 local jobs.

It is something that Michelle Brabner wants to see more of.

Ever since its formation in 1792 Southport has been famous for being a seaside holiday resort.

The town attracted 9.1million visitors in 2019, the year before the Covid pandemic struck, at a time when 6,500 jobs were directly dependent on the tourism industry.

The Covid pandemic has shown the danger of over-reliance on one sector.

Michelle Brabner is keen to work with Southport BID, Southport Town Deal and local businesses to ensure that there are more opportunities, in a greater variety of roles, with better paid prospects in the future.

It is also important that Southport College is in tune to the needs of local employers to provide the courses and the skills needed to fill the roles which become available.

She said: “The role of employers locally is an important one in all of this. It all has to come together.

“I don’t believe in sitting back and complaining from the outside.

“I believe in getting involved, speaking with others and coming up with solutions.

“Addressing the concept of youth flight and diversifying the local economy is so important.

“There is lots of enthusiasm for building a sustainable economy, a green economy here.

“Southport is such a beautiful place where you can live well.

“The pandemic has really changed the way that we view and value things.”

Young people aged between 16 and 18 are being invited to apply for courses at Southport College this September now.

The vocational courses use fantastic facilities, industry experienced tutors and valuable work experience to prepare students for university, an apprenticeship or employment in their chosen career.

Courses are now also available for Adult Learners aged 19 and over.

With the college doors now open once again and lots of new courses starting, it’s the perfect opportunity to upskill, retrain or just do something to put a smile on your face.

Southport College is also the leading provider of Apprenticeships in the area and has trained more than 1,500 Apprentices.

 

  • Southport College is hosting an Open Day on Saturday, 26th June, where people can learn more about all the courses on offer. For more details please visit: southport.ac.uk

 

Do you have a story for Stand Up For Southport? Please message Andrew Brown via Facebook here or email me at: mediaandrewbrown@gmail.com

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