A NEW online campaign group is aiming to “put the heart back” into Wrexham.

The group, which has gathered more than 150 members in just over a week, can be found on social networking site Facebook.

Called Putting the Heart Back Into Wrexham, its administrator Luke Ashley predicts the number of people joining will rise significantly over the coming months.

He said: “Many independent businesses in Wrexham are struggling to survive and given the five edge-of-town shopping centres this is not surprising.

“Wrexham has lost its heart – at one end we have the bus station and the cheaper shops, at the other end we have Eagles Meadow.

“In between we have boarded-up shops and not a lot going on.

“People now have the opportunity to change this by joining this group and sharing their thoughts.

“To help boost the town centre there is now a new Wrexham Chamber of Tourism and Trade in the town which is chaired by Stephanie Booth, owner of the Wynnstay Hotel.

“She says she would like to put on loads of events there, such as fashion shows, barbecue cooking demos, parades and a Christmas market etc.

“We would be keen to have Wrexham people’s views on this.”

He added: “Through the campaign we also aim to put pressure on the council to reduce rates for the smaller shops.

“Something also definitely needs to be done to help the market.

“If you talk to some of the traders there, as I have, you find they are really struggling.

“We intend to form a campaign group into a properly constituted body, with a team of officers, which will have regular meetings.”

However, Cllr Rodney Skelland, Wrexham Council’s lead member for regeneration and corporate governance, said Wrexham’s heart is already beating strongly.

He said: “Wrexham is often described as a regional centre when it comes to shopping.

“This is because it serves an unusually wide catchment area for its size and its retail offer has grown to support this customer base.

“As a result, the town has a hugely varied shopping offer to suit many different needs and preferences.

“Eagles Meadow was built by the private sector developers Wilson Bowden as an additional street within the town centre – not as an edge-of-town shopping development.

“Since it opened, it’s helped catapult the town up the various retail indices and was cited as an example to other towns by the British Retail Consortium.

“So its impact on the town has been hugely positive in terms of putting Wrexham on the shopping map and attracting spending visitors.

“Island Green also plays its part in boosting town centre shopping by providing the busiest car park in the town, serving both Regent Street and Hope Street as well as Island Green itself.

“It’s also worth remembering that the UK economy has experienced difficult times and comparing Wrexham to other towns provides some perspective.

“A recent survey – published by The Local Data Company – shows Wrexham has a vacancy rate of just 12.1 per cent, as opposed to Crewe at 15.4 per cent and Liverpool at 15.1 percent.”

Cllr Skelland added that despite the economic climate new businesses have opened in the town centre every month for the past six months.

He said: “Over 57 per cent of these shops are independently owned and are adding even more diversity to the retail mix in Wrexham.

“Many are at the high value end of the market and offer specialist goods and services.

“We also have three indoor markets, a regular outdoor market and a number of specialist markets taking place throughout the year providing even more choice and reasons for customers to shop in Wrexham.

“Events like the St David’s Day celebrations and Christmas lights switch-on also help boost shopping in the town centre and, with 2011 set to be Wrexham’s Year of Culture, even more events are in the pipeline.

“It’s always encouraging to see businesses working with the council and each other to put Wrexham on the retail map.

“We welcome the contribution the new chamber of trade and tourism will be able to make and look forward to continuing to work with local businesses through the Town Centre Forum, the National Market Traders Federation and other business groups.”

The Putting the Heart Back Into Wrexham group can be viewed at www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=9015416115.