Bedford is among 12 town centres across the country set to be revitalised after being selected as one of the first Portas Pilots. Bedford will get a share of a £1.2 million package of support from retail guru Mary Portas and Local Government Minister and Hertfordshire MP Grant Shapps.

The successful pilots will be helped to implement their ideas to rejuvenate the shopping centre as well as test out the measures in Mary Portas' High Street Review. Bedford will be offering mentoring support for High Street businesses and community use of empty properties.

"The best local high streets offer more than simply shopping - they are the beating heart of their neighbourhoods: places to meet, work, relax and come together as a community. It's why this competition to become a Portas Pilot has captured the imagination of the nation, with communities across the country uniting to support their high streets."

Bedford's Pilot aims to put a 'buzz' back into the town centre with many vacant shops. One key aspect of the bid is to take one of the empty shops and turn it into a showcase sales and support unit for all the other businesses on the High Street and those who aspire to be part of it. Large businesses will support and mentor small independent retailers, and a contract of care between landlords and their tenants will be encouraged. They will also start more imaginative community use of empty properties, building on "we are Bedford" events, which use empty shops as art venues, to create a platform for fledgling businesses and a new pride and ownership of the town centre.

Empty show in Bedford shopping centre which is to be turned into a sales and support unit for other businesses. Credit: Stuart Leithes/ITV Anglia

The competition to become a pilot received an overwhelming response, with over 370 applications from towns across the country. Mr Shapps said he was launching a second round of the competition, which will see 15 additional pilots announced by the end of July.