Despite having more attractions than any other town in Cornwall, Bodmin is a place most tourists pass through on their way elsewhere. A victim of town-centre neglect; empty shops, mildew and grime scar its high street.
Having grown up in Bodmin, Fin Irwin returning after 20 years noticed a lack of pride in the town: “Nothing much had really changed. The town centre did not look good and efforts to change things were happening in silos. There was not a lot of collaboration going on and little in the way of partnerships.
“Individually the tourist attractions did well, but we didn’t have the in-between stuff, community spaces and cafes drawing people together. The few community spaces we had were being repurposed through underuse. There was a feeling of things being done to the town rather than with it and that provoked a huge amount of anger. This is where I thought we could do something, create some community activism, bring people together.”
Thus, intoBodmin was born; a cultural advocacy organisation actively promoting Bodmin as an attractive, engaging, inspirational and progressive town. A place where communities are strong, and businesses are innovative. Amongst its successes so far has been saving Bodmin’s Old Library from redevelopment as private flats.
Built in 1896, this prominent building on the edge of the main shopping street has found a new purpose as a thriving community venue and includes a café, performance space, office space, community garden and venue for cultural activities. The Old Library now brings more people into the high street, which in turn benefits other local businesses.
“We want to showcase what Bodmin has to offer, and we want to provide opportunities for the growth of young, new businesses locally,” says Fin. “We want to make sure that our community feels ownership of their town, feel listened to and can see the routes by which they can make a difference.
“As an organisation, we want people to feel ownership of us too, to have a say, get involved, be part of it all, work through that kind of progression from a volunteer into paid work and onward.”
This is critical for a town struggling with above average unemployment and scoring high in parts on the indices of deprivation but missing out on investment opportunities. “We’re too big to be small and too small to be big so where we fit as a town is really challenging. Too small to have a Business Improvement District but far too big to have a tight-knit community where you know everyone, that’s a real challenge. I’m really hoping that through the things we’re doing we might be able to offer or model some insight into tackling that.”
The support Fin and the business have had from Power to Change is really helping here. A grant from Power to Change’s Bright Ideas Fund, emergency support through the pandemic and a place on the Community Business Trade Up programme have all helped shape the direction of the business, connect them with other community business leaders and provide insight and inspiration from examples elsewhere.
“This is my home. It’s where my children were born. I want it to be a place that they grow up feeling engaged in and proud of. I think it will. Bit by bit the pride in what Bodmin has to offer is coming back.”