Having spent a considerable amount of time in small market towns this spring, the subject of high street regeneration and what makes for a successful high street has dominated. Whether they have been influenced as yet by Sir John Timpson’s High Street Report is debatable, as this was only released at the end of 2018 and the Government response, offering the “£675 million Future High Street Fund to help Town Centres plan better spaces for their communities” was published in February of this year.
However, one strong theme seemed to stand out in presenting a welcoming, interesting, vibrant town centre. The fewer big brand, chain stores there were, the more varied and attractive the streetscape. Smaller towns benefit greatly from a clear delineation from a city street, when the appearance of a well-known, dependable brand, with a predictable range of products for a foot-weary shopper is often welcomed. For a visitor with more time on their hands, the pleasure of coming across an original gem offering something new, or presenting their offer in a more innovative way and finding an eclectic mix of produce can be the highlight of a visit.
Independent stores are generally more individual and varied in appearance. This leads to creating a far more interesting, original high street, that is more successful in keeping a loyal customer base, attracting new consumers and making an outing to a new location an enjoyable experience.
Successful market towns appear to play to this strength by positively discouraging the large supermarkets and from taking over, enabling the small retailer to retain their local customers. This can lead to a more diverse range of outlets and equally benefit visitors and locals. With the interest in shopping local to reduce carbon footprints and buying local produce, customers can satisfy their desire for greener options without compromising on quality and choice.
While this is not a one-size-fit-all solution, the Town Centre Champions (local person identified as having the leadership qualities and passion to be evangelical about creating a new vision for their town) recommended by the Timpson Report, could look to adopting or adapting this approach for their regeneration projects. Let’s hope that the government created Task Force has identified this approach as an example of best practice.
All photographs taken in Abergavenny, Brecon, Ludlow and Monmouth.