The impending death knell for our High Streets has long been anticipated and is a continual topic for copywriters and general discussion, but is it something that is nearly upon us, or are we just misreading the signs?
Nature is an incredible thing, our world is full of miracles, follow any one of David Attenborough’s series and you can’t help but be amazed and captivated by the diversity of creation. One miracle that perhaps we don’t pay enough attention to is one that created what he have come to know as our High Streets. That miracle is human interaction, our desire and our need for it.
Food, shelter, warmth, security and to continue, they are things that drive us and the High Street has a part to play and I believe it always can.
Now, I am a romantic, there is one inside all of us I believe, I have lovely memories of childhood from what was my High Street, back then. I remember being fascinated by the sawdust on the butchers floor; the thought that someone could make such a mess and be allowed to do it was amazing to me. I loved the shine of penny sweets in their tall glass jars, the fascination of an ice cream coming out of a fridge and that magical array of choice, I wasn’t so keen on the school uniform shop but I did love the library with its endless row of book filled shelves, so much to devour on wet and windy days.
There is an almost insurmountable tide of competition for businesses to contend with today; how do any survive and is there a decline that is due to continue?
The answer lays with me of course, and with you, with all of us and we have choices to make, but so do business owners and both need to act in unison, both need to communicate and one needs to support and one needs to provide. The task is how and what?
I do love my village shop, I admit I don’t support it enough, but I do praise it to others and I do use it as often as I can. It offers the most fantastic cards and has become my go to place for birthdays etc, I have found things there I could never have imagined finding, cards that have delighted friends and family and in doing so add value to the time I spend in the shop. Each time I am in there I am pleasantly surprised at the array of produce, of choices on offer and I have made spot decisions about dinner for an evening just because I have spotted something as I make my way to the stationary and to the Post Office counter.
It must be incredibly hard to be competitive, to stock produce and to be relevant so my admiration always goes out to shop owners. For me, the icing on the cake for using the shop is the smile of recognition as I walk in, the moment to chat, to share and to feel part of something. Remember that miracle I mentioned, human interaction, it has the power to strengthen, to support to heal, it has a power for joy, for knowledge, for growth and for change.
Everywhere has challenges, for villages and small towns it is often people working away, returning late and on the way passing superstores, bastions of convenience shopping. They provide parking which is often lacking or costly in town centres so how does a High Street compete?
Perhaps it shouldn’t!
The challenge is to be relevant and to be accessible but most of all to provide a reason to exist.
Our world has altered, we live much of our lives connected online, social media supposedly rules, although it has a sting in the tail and you can understand why it is often dubbed, ‘antisocial media’.
When people move home the High Street, shops and facilities are still incredibly important. Schools are renowned for being lures but so are pretty centres, vibrant centres and places where people can enjoy leisure time.
Our village shops, our High Streets can remain the place where we interact, where we get tactile with products, where we realise that the item we looked at online is one tenth the size or twice what we want or need. It is where we can feel a fabric, admire the cut, relish in the true colour. It is where we can ask an opinion, share a joke and where we can chat over a meal or a drink.
Huge amounts of good work is being done around the country to bring events to High Streets, to smarten them up, to highlight architecture and history, to connect us in real time to our neighbourhood and to our past.
Look for historic walks, guided tours, blue plaques and use the internet and social media to search out the best coffee, the juiciest burger, the finest cuisine. Search for that special offer and go and see it first hand. Virtual and real High Streets can co exist and complement. Many towns are making better use of natural resources, their landscape, of farmer’s markets, to provide a fuller day’s experience, to give more than one reason to visit.
I wonder if we will ever see a tea room in our village, one that stocks coffee from a local roaster, a local tea (yes I know), one that offers hand made cakes from a local independent caterers, we have incredible options for that around us! Co operation can be powerful. Farm produce abounds and, the more I talk to people, the more evident it is that there is a desire for local produce, for ethical supply chains so, as consumers, we should make an effort to take part, don’t just buy produce that is grown locally, purchase it in the flesh locally, consume it locally, show your appreciation for the people that bring this to you.
Why do so many of us travel around the country or abroad to experience a ‘traditional event’, something that has gone on for hundreds of years? We have a love of these things and yet we sometimes forget our own homegrown traditions, Village Fete’s, May Day, Harvest Festivals, Pageants; yes they take organisation, yes there are vagaries of weather but people love their communities, let’s not forget our local traditions, they become the bedrock for businesses to survive and communities to bond.
I am very blessed to be involved with the Kent Life Food and Drink Awards and every year I am absolutely amazed by the variety and quality of businesses we see. It isn’t just Kent, look around the country and there are amazing people doing incredible things.
Look for events in your village, in your town, support them, maintain traditions, build awareness, create memories for you and for others and share time with people, marvel in that miracle that makes humans special and add to the good that we can all do together. Make time, it isn’t a crime to step out of work at lunchtime and all businesses are part of a community. Every company should encourage its staff to support businesses around them because there is reciprocation. People buy from people and it is two way traffic.
There are a number of projects underway to assist High Street regeneration listed below. The Portas review has been both praised and criticised over time.
When I think of revitalising our High Streets, it’s children that give me hope for the future. Take a group of young kids and place them in a garden away from their phones and from a TV, isn’t it amazing how they interact, how they play and occupy themselves and they seem to have a whale of a time.
Think back to being a child, to the magic and mystery, to the joy of companionship and discovery, ultimately there is a solution:
Pretend to be a tourist in your own town for a day, discover it anew. Enjoy your ‘High Street’!