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Shopping in Halstead: A unique experience

PUBLISHED: 10:21 14 January 2016 | UPDATED: 10:25 14 January 2016

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EXG JAN 16 HALSTEAD

Archant

How Halstead high street deals with the rising number of people shopping online and the unique experience of Halstead shopping.

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For many towns as beautiful as Halstead, surrounded by stunning countryside, visitors enjoying a day trip are a common sight and this is good news for high street traders. It could be a walk or drive followed by a stop to get a cup of coffee or some lunch that encourages someone to park up and explore the shops, as they extend their visit to the area. And although big name chain stores are replicated in most towns, including Halstead, Halstead still maintains its own unique retailers that locals will recognise and visitors will appreciate.

One business that has been serving the community for an impressive 55 years is Humes’ Bakery, a family-run concern that has a great reputation within the town. Ann Hume, who has been working in the bakery alongside her husband for more than 50 years, explains what she believes has contributed to the longevity of the business. ‘It’s all about the product,’ says Ann. ‘Good, fresh goods that are baked on the premises. As a traditional bakery we sell jam doughnuts, sausage rolls and Eccles cakes as well as our ‘floor bread’, baked on the floor of the oven giving it a lovely flavour.’

Although Ann agrees there has been a change to the way people shop, they certainly have their faithful customers who clearly like what they get from the bakery. ‘We have people who have been buying from us for as long as we’ve been open, and now their grandchildren are our customers too.’

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As consumer expert Mary Portas stated in her report (commissioned by the Government and published in 2011) there is a huge importance in local retail, declaring, ‘High streets are the heart of towns and communities. They have been for centuries.’ One of her recommendations was for towns to put in place a Town Team – ‘a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets’. Several Essex towns have picked up on this strategy to help protect and promote high street business and encourage footfall.

Mike Prince, who is a Halstead resident and part of the Halstead Town Team (HTT) promoting the street market, explains what the HTT is doing. ‘Already the Town Team has been instrumental in revitalising the market and we hope that further expansion will continue during the forthcoming year,’ says Mike. ‘The HTT open forum planned for January will be investigating how we, in conjunction with the retailers and other key stake holders, can put in place a programme to make Halstead even more attractive. We are also working with Braintree District Council in planning a regeneration scheme for the High Street and improving signage within the town.’

The Halstead Street Market takes place on every third Saturday of the month from 9am and sells a variety of locally-produced goods such as cheeses, fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, jams and preserves, as well as craft items such as scarves and bags.

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Mike reminds us that Halstead, like many Essex towns, has the market embedded in its history. ‘The market goes back to its first Royal Charter in 1250 granted by Henry III and subsequent charters in 1330, 1431 and 1467. The rights from these charters are now owned by the current Lord of the Manor.’

Clearly, the market has brought people to the town and, in July, the Town Team held an open forum, inviting members of the public to come and have their say on the town’s regeneration, with ideas being put forward to Braintree District Council. The strength and success of any high street and town centre relies on interest from the immediate community and as market towns have proven to be highly desirable places to live – according to recent property surveys – the interest should be high.

The Halstead Town Team not only has a well maintained and lively Facebook page (there is also a page for the market) with lots of information about the various shops and businesses trading in the town, they also decided to enter The Great British High Street Awards for 2015. Although they were not chosen as finalists in 2015, they stand every chance of following in the footsteps of the town’s award-winning Halstead in Bloom team which has seen national success in the past, further promoting the virtues of Halstead as a place to visit.

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As the HTT states: ‘We have so many wonderful independent shops and a few national chain stores which bring a vibrancy which is great for business. We have an improving market, which everyone has wanted for a long time. Let’s be proud of what we have, proud of what we have achieved and tell the world!’

Shopping aside, town centres are also good places for socialising and there are many wonderful places to eat in Halstead, ranging from coffee shops to bistro pubs, Indian and Oriental outlets and eateries offering traditional English food – so there is something for everyone.

According to Mary Portas, Great British high streets must adapt to changes in the way we shop, but can still remain attractive venues for both locals and visitors. ‘Fundamentally, I believe that our high streets are uniquely placed to deliver something new,’ she says. ‘I believe that our high streets can be lively, dynamic, exciting and social places that give a sense of belonging and trust to a community.’

If this is the challenge, it would certainly seem that Halstead Town Council and its Town Team are up for it and that Halstead’s High Street is well worth keeping an eye on.

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