Can we save Essex’s High Streets?
PUBLISHED: 10:56 08 December 2020 | UPDATED: 12:53 08 December 2020
With lockdowns and Tiers wreaking havoc across Essex and the UK as a whole, can we still save our high streets by shopping local this Christmas?
The ringing of sleigh bells can be heard in the distance, and minds are very quickly turning to the festive season. How Christmas will look in Essex this year is uncertain, but it will be unlike any other as the nation adapts to the ongoing rules and safety measures of living in a pandemic.
For many, after a year of hardship, there is a drive to make this Christmas special, even if that means spending it physically apart, yet the pandemic has put a lot of people off visiting shops in person and the latest lockdown has made it even more tempting to opt for online shopping. Just as the year has been tough for residents on a personal level, businesses have also been struck hard, and losing that vital festive trade could have a devastating impact on high streets across the county. Essex needs residents to shop local, this year more than ever, and the support of local shoppers is especially important for local independent retailers.
David Burch, director of policy at the Essex Chamber of Commerce, explains how important it is when shopping this Christmas that smaller businesses can offer something unique and different to the big name retailers. David says: ‘There will be the temptation to look at doing everything online, but it really is important people really consider their local businesses as well as national and international companies. It’s important to support these businesses, as they are the heart of our communities.
‘A study completed some years ago, showed that 70p in every £1 you spend in a smaller business stays in that community Very often the people running those local shops are really involved in their local community – they could be members of their parish council or sports club, the rotary or school PTA. They are often the first to support charities and fundraisers, and often employ local people.’
Aidan McGurran, chairman of Basildon Council’s economic recovery committee, is continuing ongoing work to ensure residents can shop locally and safely, this Christmas.
He says: ‘We want our residents to be as safe as possible this Christmas, and still be able to celebrate properly. When possible, we also ask our residents to continue supporting safe shopping through practicing social distancing, regular handwashing and the wearing of face coverings. All of these precautions are to help protect our businesses, their staff and each other.’
Shopping locally is more than the local high street as well. Brightening up the house to get into the Christmas spirit can be done by visiting garden centres, which often have a great stock of decorations for both indoors and outside. And for the Christmas dinner and treats there are plenty of food producers and farm shops across Essex. Buying locally grown goods means fresher produce and reducing your carbon footprint at the same time as supporting farmers.
While some big events look set to be cancelled this year, you will still find Christmas lights and some festive markets on offer, while extra efforts are being made to give towns a festive feel.
Sam Good, of the Colchester Business Improvement District, explains how Christmas lights are being put up this year and empty shops will be dressed up in festive themes in the hope of a return to business in December.
Sam explains: ‘We did a survey and found there are still a lot of people who are uncomfortable about coming into the town centre. The message really is shop local, not only at independents but the national names too, as we don’t want to lose them. Across the town, businesses will be focused on getting people into the town centre and making it magical.’
How to help your local high street
By Suzanne Gloyne, Southend BID Manager
Visit: The best way to support the high street is by popping in. Businesses are strictly adhering to safety measures but a large number of shoppers around the country have still not returned to their usual high street habits. When you shop online you will typically be supporting just one business to avoid the extra delivery costs. But, heading into town means multiple businesses could benefit when you buy gifts from several shops and stop off for an indulgent hot chocolate or a hearty lunch.
Collect: If you’re someone who wants to shop online to avoid spending extra time in stores then a good alternative is to use the ‘Click and Collect’ services that many national and independent shops offer. This will allocate the sales to your local store. Take a look at our list of ‘Click and Collect’ stores in Southend on www.VisitSouthend.co.uk.
Pay Forward: Buying a voucher or a gift card from a high street business could be the perfect present for someone (or yourself!) to enjoy at a later date. It will give the business a vital cash boost and can be a great choice for those who don’t want to, or can’t, venture out at the moment.
Leave Reviews: Forbes have previously reported that 90% of people read online reviews before visiting a business, so this is a brilliant way to show your support, especially if you’re not looking to spend right now. Take some time to leave a review for your favourite businesses. Not only will it give business owners something to smile about, it will also help their business gain new customers.
Get Social: Another free way to show your support is to follow the social media pages of local businesses that you love. They will reach a far wider customer base if you follow them and then interact with their posts or tag their account when you visit or buy something. By doing these small acts the business can let more people know about their great offers this festive season. At Southend BID we’ve joined the #ShopLocal #ShopSouthend campaign, so look out for those.