RETAILERS and community leaders will meet at St Neot’s first Town Team meeting next week to decide how to shape the market town’s future.

With thousands of pounds-worth of funding available to kick-start the turn-around, town centre manager Katie Williams is keen for as many people to be involved as possible.

Although the initial meeting is invite-only, there will be a chance for members of the public to have their say in a number of surveys later in the year.

Mrs Williams said the move was a positive step after official figures recently showed a disappointing decline in footfall.

Despite missing out on its bid to become a Portas Pilot Town, backing from local MP Jonathan Djanogly meant the team behind the bid qualified for the £10,000 grant.

The meeting on Tuesday (February 19) at the Priory Centre would help identify ways for that money to be put to best use.

“We want to think outside the box,” Mrs Williams said. “All of the people who supported the bid have been invited to the meeting with the town council, business leaders, commercial agents and landlords.

“We want to get people working together and move things in a positive direction.”

She hopes the 60 delegates at the meeting, who will be split into groups, will come up with creative ideas for the money.

Ideas suggested by the town council so far include introducing pop-up shops – making use of empty buildings for businesses that don't want to commit to long-term leases – and hosting more events to attract people back into the High Street and Market Square.

The town council is also looking at doing more to boost trade after 5pm – targeting people who are perhaps coming home to the town via the railway station.

Mrs Williams said: “We really want to change people's perceptions of St Neots. We want to give people more reasons to come into the town. It isn't just about bringing big national retailers here – we want to have something different to offer, a unique attraction. Coming into the town centre is not always about shopping.”

She continued: “Things can only get better for St Neots. Let's focus on how we can improve. We have the cinema development, which is really going to help the night-time economy, and a number of new independent restaurants have opened – that sector is really growing.

“Onwards and upwards,” she added. “Things are not as grim as they appear. Shop local, stay local – there is lot more here than you think.”