Vertical Markets

Crowdfunding campaign

by Mark Rowe

Mansfield town centre is to be one of the largest in the UK to have free public WiFi after a crowdfunding appeal reached its target – and the system will be used to showcase retail technology. In an initiative launched and driven by the Mansfield Business Improvement District (BID), the WiFi equipment could be installed early in 2013 and accessible by spring.

Sarah Nelson, Mansfield BID manager, said: “This is fantastic news for shoppers, visitors and businesses alike and helps to put Mansfield on the technological map. We’re grateful to everyone who has backed the campaign and made it a real success story to be proud of.”

In an effort to make the town centre more attractive, Mansfield BID launched the crowdfunding campaign to raise the £37,000 to turn the Nottinghamshire town centre into one of the UK’s largest free WiFi hotspots.

In December 2011, retail figure Mary Portas highlighted the number of empty shops in the UK’s town centres, with the national figure now at around 15 per cent and in Mansfield at 12 per cent.

Sarah added: “As there are so many benefits to free WiFi, it will help Mansfield to attract investors and enable businesses large and small to use new technology to stay ahead of the competition. Stallholders, for example, could take card payments and shoppers would be able to browse the internet and stay a while longer.

“We’re delighted that the work of the Mansfield BID team and its partners was recognised by the Association of Town Centre Management and the Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government, which led to the project being accepted on to Spacehive, the online platform for crowdfunding neighbourhood improvement projects.”

A number of individuals and businesses have contributed to the fund, and Mansfield District Council supported the scheme with a £1,221 grant.

The Cardinal Group, a security contractor, has donated £20,000, and hopes to use the WiFi to develop and showcase its retail security software and services.

If set up, Cardinal will use Mansfield to showcase its Store of the Future Technology (SOTF), which is a modular ‘platform’ that brings together the online and offline shopping experience.

Virtual Mirrors, for example, which enable consumers to browse clothing collections and virtually try them on without entering the changing room, could be placed in shop windows, allowing passers-by to try on clothing and make purchases online while the store is closed.

And Touch Foil technology enables brands to use empty store windows as promotional and interactive advertising display spaces; and the application of vinyl wrapping to empty shop windows which incorporates QR codes and Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, enabling shoppers to make purchases and giving a new look and feel to high streets.

Jason Trigg, founder and CEO at Cambridge-based Cardinal Group, said: “This is a really exciting project for Mansfield, which has the opportunity to lead the way not only in free WiFi access but to be highlighted as the town where next-generation retail technology is installed to transform the high street. Cardinal is thrilled to be involved.”

Web and e-commerce specialist Dave Hartshorne, whose company is based within the BID area, added: “Internet is the way of the future and anything that helps business and customers connect, while helping to regenerate the town centre, has to be welcomed.”

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