Mary Portas gets help from East Cambs businessman

LOCAL businessman Jonathan James has attended “a fantastic” first meeting with TV retail guru Mary Portas, after being called in to help her with a government-backed review aimed at saving the High Street.

Mr James - who has convenience stores in Ely, Littleport and Soham - attended an inaugural meeting in London, where the first steps were taken to structure the process.

“We looked at various ideas to revitalise the High Street,” said Mr James, who was one of 20 business people asked to get involved in the project.

“There was a mixture of business people, academics and government bodies there; it was a fantastic meeting, incredibly positive.”

Mary Portas - the star of TV programmes including Mary Queen of Shops and Secret Shopper - has been asked by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to look at the problem of empty shops, and how to stop towns becoming clones, dominated by chain stores.

Mr James of James Graven Ltd said: “I spoke to Mary and said whatever I could do to help her in the process, I would; and she has taken me up on that offer. I will be one of the business people to work alongside her.

“It is very exciting and a huge honour; I am absolutely passionate about small shops. I was really pleased and excited to meet Mary, her passion came through in her half hour talk.”

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Mr James - who runs BP garages with attached stores at Ely and Littleport, and a High Street store in Soham - says there are several “quick wins” that can be done to improve town centre shopping.

He is against car parking charges, and says streets should be clean, and public toilets pristine.

“No one wants to lose the High Street, they are the glue that holds people together,” he added.

Mr James, who also has two garages with convenience stores in Chatteris and a store in Dersingham, is vice-chairman of the UK’s Association of Convenience stores; and is on the international committee of the USA’s National Association of Convenience Stores.

Last year he went to Australia to speak about convenience stores, and next month he is off to speak to retailers in Vancouver.

“These are massive honours,” said Mr James. “I recently met Business Secretary Vince Cable for a breakfast meeting when I talked about the Littleport Development Framework and gave it to him, as an example of best practice.

“The Department wanted my input because we are recognised nationally as one of the top community retailers; we do things in the community that other shops don’t do.”