Paul Dunn, 53, recently opened a new Theatre Square business, Choc Shop, using the Flashshop scheme. Backed by the council, Forward Swindon and inSwindon, the scheme aims to encourage would-be business owners and enhance shopping areas. Paul lives in Haydon Wick

“SWINDON has so much potential. It could and should be absolutely brilliant.”

Paul Dunn clearly loves the town he has called home since his teens, but he doesn’t gloss over its problems – and has given plenty of thought to solutions.

“We have lots of empty shops, and people say, ‘If there were better shops there would be more customers.’ But actually, you won’t get better shops until you have more customers.

“You need to attract people as a starting point. Mary Portas did a report on this and basically said that town centres need to think about entertainment and ways to bring people in. When you think about the town centre, there isn’t much reason to be here other than shopping or drinking coffee. My vision would be to create opportunities for people to come and experience something that isn’t shopping – and then when they’re here they can go shopping.

“For example, what if you were to turn the town centre into a big outdoor art gallery? Billboards dotted around town where you could stuck pictures. You could licence them from the internet. They could be kittens, they could be the Mona Lisa, they could be anything. They could be changed regularly and people could wander around the town centre and see them all.

“You’d have a reason to be here now – to see this.

“You could insist that every new building includes a space for art, and ask existing building owners to make spaces.

“There are lots of ideas for things to go on at Wharf Green, for example. I like the idea of a model boat regatta, I like the idea of giving the space to the Cubs and the Scouts, giving the space to the gardeners of Swindon and asking, ‘What can you come up with?’

“You could ask someone like, maybe, Honda whether they could come and take the space, bring some new cars, some old cars and concept cars and make an event there as we celebrate the corporates of Swindon. Could they invite employees for a big get-together?

“There are lots of ideas you could come up with, things to happen which aren’t particularly difficult and which could grow organically.”

Paul also suggests Swindon’s new art gallery should be in a Railway Works building. He would like to see a place where art is not just displayed but created, and where larger pieces would be beacons of vibrancy visible from the London-South Wales mainline.

He was born in Taunton and has been in Swindon since 1978 when his supermarket manager father came to run a town centre branch of Fine Fare.

“I decided I wanted to be a computer programmer, and that’s what I did originally. I did that for twenty years.

“My first job was with Plessey in Cheney Manor. I did a short course at the Regent Circus college, now demolished. One of the placements was at Plessey and I got the job there.

“Then I went to work for Price Waterhouse in London. I commuted on the train. I enjoyed it – the excitement of London and working for a prestigious firm. I was writing programmes for their internal systems.”

Later he worked for a company in Cirencester. He thought about entrepreneurship for many years.

“During the 1980s I was enthralled by the exploits of Richard Branson – what he was doing, the great fun he was having and all the different businesses he was starting. Really, it was a matter of trying to find that next idea. It didn’t matter what that idea was, so long as it was successful.

“Ever since, I’ve been trying to find different ideas for things to do.”

Paul was co-director of a successful video production company which was based for some years in what was then still Wootton Bassett. Paul chaired the town’s Chamber of Commerce.

The idea for Choc Shop came last year.

“I carried on video editing at home but I was looking for something new to do and this idea popped into my head.

“I was always a big chocolate lover, never boiled sweets or anything like that.

“I said to my parents, ‘Don’t give me Easter Eggs, give me bars of chocolate instead because you get more!’

“A friend who I’ve known since my days at Headlands School knows I like chocolate, so at birthdays and Christmas he usually includes some kind of chocolate. He gave me a chocolate pizza for my birthday last year, in September. I really enjoyed it, and in the Adver at that time was a piece about the Flashshop opportunity which I read and thought was just the sort of thing the town centre needed.

“Then, a couple of weeks later I was sat thinking about this chocolate pizza because it was so delicious. I thought, ‘Where can I buy one?’ I realised I couldn’t buy one in Swindon, and then I put two and two together with the Flashshop opportunity.”

Paul is full of praise for Flashshop.

“It’s a perfect way for people to start – for those on a limited budget who cannot commit to a ten-year lease, say, or who don’t have a budget for solicitors, surveyors and everything else, to actually have a go.

“The view is to one day take on one of those leases. That’s the idea. Without the scheme I wouldn’t be able to do this at all, and in ten years’ time who knows how big this will be. What a shame if it could never have happened.

“I’m sure there must be loads of people out there with ideas who would like just to have a go.”

His advice to other would-be shop owners?

“Initially your options are limited. You can think all you like about locations but there aren’t many options in Swindon. It was really this or nothing else for me. I realised that where I am now has little footfall. I figured, ‘I can get people here for chocolate’.

“You’ve really got to be careful about what you choose to start up. You need something that’s going to create a bit of a buzz, that will get people to go out of their way to visit your shop.”