As you know, even in London we’re seeing record numbers of high street store closures at the moment and believe me, we’re the lucky ones – in the most hard-hit towns across the country every third store is shuttered (my home town of Dudley being a particularly pointed example – even the likes of Marks and Spencer and McDonalds have abandoned the town centre there).
Last May, retail guru Mary Portas undertook a review to look at ways of rejuvenating the high street in the face of increased competition from online, out of town malls and the large supermarket chains. Her report was published in December and made 28 recommendations (which you can read here), which included preferring planning applications that focus on town centre development, encouraging innovative community use of empty stores, and taking negligent landlords to task. More recently the Government has announced that 12 towns will get a share of a £1m pot so that they can carry forward some of the recommendations from the Portas report.
What I really want to highlight in this post is that fact that during my regular travels across London I keep coming across areas that aren’t waiting for a green light to reinvigorate themselves – they’re already taking the appropriate steps. Take, for example, the ‘re-launch’ of the charming Wood St Market in Walthamstow, which I mentioned on the blog a few weeks ago – small independent retailers offering unique products and really good customer service alongside new community spaces to draw in people who aren’t there to shop. I’ve also recently found out about a similar initiative in Willesden Green of all places, which actually kicks off today – under the brand name of ‘Willesden Windows’, a set of new independent stores and community spaces are opening on Queen’s Parade, along with a programme of Easter activities to draw in local shoppers. Here’s a rundown of some of them:
- Art Lobby, a new contemporary audio-visual art gallery
Roses & String, who make and sell a range of beautiful home-wares and gifts, all created by local crafters. They even have a local craft group that you can join, ‘Chit Chat and Make That’
- Vintage Green are a collective of three local, independent vintage traders: Fox & Bear, Pie & Brush and Bumblehog.
- Paint Mine is a website hosting and graphics studio that offers services to local SMEs.
- My Pop Up Design Shop – an exciting new retail outlet for homewares and design led accessories, sourced from locally-based designersrun by successful interior stylist, Zoe Brewer
- The Unlimited Printshop, who offer a work experience training scheme for young people with a learning disability, focusing on screenprinting.
- Punch & Juicy was founded by formerly homeless entrepreneur Davina Roberts, Punch & Juicy is an award-winning social enterprise providing healthy foods & juices.
- The Wise Owl Venue will host workshops, talks, music and cinema events, hosted by locals Joanna and Sharon
Now I don’t know about you, but I much prefer local independent retailers who offer good customer service and quality products to the bland line up of big brands on most high streets – my local shopping complex, Westfield in Stratford, being a case in point – great architecture but floor to ceiling big brands. That being said, I’m also big on value for money so I trust that none of the Willesden Green outlets I’ve mentioned above will try to sell me a single cupcake for £4 – that’s a fairly recent phenomenon I don’t welcome at all! The truth is that in this harsh business climate we have to put our money where our mouth is if we want these independent places to survive their early growing pains. Perhaps we should all think about taking advantage of the nice spring sunshine on Saturday and popping down to the local high street rather than sitting in front of the PC? I can see a particular independent second-hand bookshop in my future this weekend…