How Brentwood bucks the trend of town centre decline
PUBLISHED: 10:45 08 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:51 08 May 2019
While times might be tough for retail in our town centres, Brentwood is bucking the trend with plenty on offer for both shoppers and visitors, as Holly Eells discovers | Photos: Richard Barker
Despite the doom and gloom reported about the retail industry and the fate of some of Britain's high streets, it is reassuring to hear that Essex is still flourishing, and Brentwood is among those successful town centres bucking the trend.
So what is it that helps Brentwood create the thriving town centre that it does?
Brentwood is a beautiful suburban town that offers something for everyone all year round. Over the years it has expanded its range of independent shops and big high street brands, while also offering special events, a range of top attractions and a wealth of history - Brentwood is more than just a shopping destination.
'The diverse range of shops along the Brentwood High Street means that you can pretty much pick up anything you want in the town centre,' explains, Mayor of Brentwood, Cllr Sheila Murphy.
'We've been pleased to see major retailers, such as Marks & Spencer, investing in our town centre to expand their retail offer and add an upstairs cafe.
In addition to a thriving night time economy and popular weekend market, the town centre also boasts a strong cultural scene that includes a theatre, art galleries and live music.
'We are very proud of our many award-winning independent shops, who offer a personalised shopping experience that reminds us that traditional retail is still strong in 2019.
Surrounded by the green belt, the High Street is only a short drive from Weald Country Park, Thorndon Country Park and the borough's charming villages, making a visit to the town centre one part of a lovely day out in Brentwood.'
While it might not be everyone's cup of tea, it can also be argued that Brentwood has been boosted by the BAFTA award-winning television series The Only Way Is Essex, which turned the suburban town into a hugely popular tourist hot spot for a completely new market.
Fans from all over the UK, and beyond, visit the town to visit the TOWIE stars' clothing stores, such as Sam and Billie Faiers' Minnie's Boutique and Gemma Collins Collection, or The Sugar Hut nightclub and bar.
However, now the hype has lessened, Brentwood still maintains its local, charming character and the town still attracts a high volume of visitors.
Brentwood Borough Council and developers have some big ideas regarding revamping the shopping experience for locals and visitors, and there are some very exciting projects on the way.
'We will be starting regeneration projects that will deliver new homes as well as public spaces and commercial and leisure facilities in Brentwood. Our residents and visitors will, over the coming months and years, be able to see a real change that will build on our heritage and create a town for the future,' adds Cllr Murphy.
As an example, The Baytree Centre, in the heart of the Brentwood High Street, is looking to redevelop its space to create a more diverse and vibrant shopping experience.
Plans have been submitted to revamp the units and open up the space around the historic chapel ruins to allow for easier access to the centre from the High Street.
Mike Hawkins, chairman of the Brentwood Business Partnership, believes bringing the community together is important for everyone. He says: 'The Brentwood Business Partnership is working with key partners such as Beresfords Estate Agents to support new events along the High Street.
Visitors want engaging experiences when they come into town centres now, so the partnership will be hosting free, family-friendly activities throughout the year, such as an art trail, Easter egg hunt, summer tea party and Christmas grotto.
Looking ahead, there are plans for a pop-up fashion market and live entertainment to be held in the High Street to create an extra buzz in Brentwood.'
It is evident there is a strong community spirit in Brentwood and many locals are passionate to support their area as much as they can. Recently Brentwood Borough Council staff and volunteers were armed with litter pickers, paintbrushes and gardening gloves, determined to give Brentwood High Street a spring clean.
It was a week of action and part of the council's Spruce the High Street campaign, which saw the Neighbourhood Action Team, volunteers and businesses carry out a number of tasks to give the area a deep clean. Work included painting rails, varnishing street benches, washing phone boxes, weeding and planting.
'Keeping Brentwood Borough clean is a big part of what our street scene team and Neighbourhood Action Team do. While the work will not stop after this week of action, the Spruce up the High Street campaign was a good start on giving the area a deep clean,' says Cllr Keith Parker, Brentwood Borough Council's chair of the environment and enforcement committee.
He continues: 'It's been fantastic seeing people come together and keeping Brentwood looking its best. It is great to see the sense of pride and the community spirit in the borough.
'A special thank you goes to the businesses and the volunteers who gave their time to help us during the clean up and to The Baytree Centre and Nicholls Build for donating cleaning supplies.'
There is certainly a pride in Brentwood town centre and Lin Heath, the owner of French Quarter (a furniture, homewares and gift shop located along Crown Street), believes Brentwood is the place to be.
She says: 'We are fortunate that Brentwood still offers many unique, independent shops, as well as national retailers, not just on the High Street but also in little offshoot roads like Crown Street, Kings Road and Roper's Yard, where the local retailers have a true sense of community spirit.
'Although online shopping is on the rise, we find that by offering a one to one personal service and really getting to know our customers, we can make their shopping trip a really enjoyable experience so that they return time and time again.'
For some shoppers, the ease of online shopping will tempt them away from shopping on the high street, while for others, nothing beats browsing in a bricks and mortar store or having the chance to look and feel your purchase before you buy.
But whichever type of shopper you are, Brentwood promises to have plenty to offer you for many years to come.